When it comes to present day family, we’re generally pulled in one of two directions.
- The family I grew up in was near perfect and that’s the way family should be.
- The family I grew up in was a mess and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.
These are not correct but they’re the directions in which most of us are pulled.
Our twenty-four year old neighbor ran up to Dee and me while we were standing in our front yard last week. We’ve known him since he was in the 3rd grade. He blurted out something like, Mr. Gary, Miss Dee I’ve just got to know, do you ever argue? Do you ever have disagreements? I’ve known you most of my life and I’ve never seen you fight or disagree with one another. LOL! We assured him we have had many “lively discussions” through our married life. We intentionally left our children and others out of these by having them in private. We may have made a mistake. For example, our friend was relieved to know we “fought”. The idea of an ideal family is a myth.
Family dynamics can be a strange animal. What is right to some can feel wrong to others. What is normal to us is very abnormal to others. Does that make us right? I don’t think so.
These thoughts began to churn in my mind after visiting with a distant cousin and fellow family history enthusiast. I “met” her after putting an ad in the Murray County, KY newspaper two years ago. I was looking for Roberts’ family connections and knew next to nothing about them. My cousin’s friend’s husband saw the ad and brought it to his wife’s attention. His wife passed the information on to my cousin in another city. She contacted me and the rest is as they say, family history!
She and I visited on the phone again last week and she shared an insightful nugget. She said the Roberts family she knew could be cliquish. They tended to stay to themselves and rarely had high regard for their mates’ families. I thought about the family in which I grew up. We knew so little about either side of our family and rarely saw or interacted with them, especially my mom’s. I’m not sure of all the reasons for this. I know Dad and his father, who had been raised as an orphan, rarely agreed. He left home at 16, lied about his age and joined the military. I’m not sure if it was always this way, but it seems that if you disagreed with dad or made him mad (not very difficult) he could just do without you. He didn’t invite you to visit and he didn’t make an effort to visit you. We rarely saw family. My brother once correctly pointed out to me that if dad had not left his Veteran’s check coming to his parents address in Fort Worth we would have seen them even less. I can’t remember ever meeting my mom’s father. I thought I had a faint memory of meeting him once but after a conversation with her, I now realize it was actually my Grandfather Burns. My memories are rare and cherished.
Is this the way our family is today? No. Not really. I have some similar traits but we’re different in many ways. I have tendencies but Dee helps me fight them.
Here is one way I’m very much like my dad. If you can’t come see me or don’t want to come see me, I’m entirely okay with it. I want you to do what you need to do. I want you to do what you want to do.
Our ministry obligations early in marriage kept us from seeing our family as often as we would have liked. I was no doubt primed and ready for this by my upbringing. My parents understood this and were really great with it. I never felt any pressure to visit them or perform in any way to meet their expectations. They had a wonderful “come when you can” and “you’re always welcome” attitude, but don’t put yourself out. I absolutely love this about mom and dad and believe it gave me the freedom to spend more time with my children. Did I mention I love my mom and dad?
I’ve “given daughters away” and encouraged my sons to “leave their father and mother and cleave unto their wives”. I often feel misunderstood and rarely ever (maybe never) asked to clarify my thinking. I’ve told my grown children I’ll stay out of their lives unless they choose to invite me in. (I know this doesn’t sound much like community.) I want them to know they’re always welcome but never obligated.
Dee and I saw the conflict in families when you have hard fast traditions your children are expected to follow. We chose not to have any. We did holidays different, never doing them the same two years in a row. Our grown and married children feel no obligation to be with us on the actual holidays and rarely ever are. They’re usually off with their in-laws. Good. We took our kids on “nuclear family” vacations so we could have time away just to ourselves. Was this good? I don’t know. We had regular meals and family discussions. Was this good? I think so.
We did things the way we did them. Were they all right? No. Would we do some things different? Yes. Should you do things the way we did them? No? Should you consider doing some things differently? Yes.
What part is nature and what part is nurture? The good genealogist is always willing to consider both.