Sunday, November 25, 2007

Defining Family: When to Subtract

When I started this blog, one of the topics I wanted to explore - and I listed it right in the masthead (see, above this post) - was what it means to be a family. And I think a big part of that is defining family.

I'd never looked up the definition for family before because I thought I knew it. It turns out, I was surprised by how limiting the first entries or so are. I'm posting the first seven, because the rest don't apply, since they move in the idea of larger, official families (the family of Romantics, for instance). defines family as:
  1. parents and their children, considered as a group, whether dwelling together or not.
  2. the children of one person or one couple collectively: We want a large family.
  3. the spouse and children of one person: We're taking the family on vacation next week.
  4. any group of persons closely related by blood, as parents, children, uncles, aunts, and cousins: to marry into a socially prominent family.
  5. all those persons considered as descendants of a common progenitor.
  6. Chiefly British. approved lineage, esp. noble, titled, famous, or wealthy ancestry: young men of family.
  7. a group of persons who form a household under one head, including parents, children, and servants.
For me, family has always been extended to definition four - any group of persons closely related by blood - and, frankly, their marriage partners as well.

I now see that's just a huge definition - no wonder 'family' makes me anxious! The family I carry around in my head is just too darn huge to feel like family.

You'll note the first three definitions are much smaller, essentially composed of the traditional, nuclear family: A parent and offspring.

Why all this defining of family?

Honestly, I'm pondering whether there are situations - things that happen, circumstances - that make it ridiculously to extend to someone the consideration of family.

In short: Can you kick people out of your family? Can you cut out the dysfunctional and limit who you consider your family to the point of creating a functional group?

If my extended family is so negative as to make me miserable, can I just delete them from my definition of family?

Obviously, in some ways, no. Family is family, and if there's a blood tie, there's not a lot you can do about it. You'll still all be invited to the same funerals, the same weddings, the same 'parties.' You can't control that.

But you can control how you relate to that person and whether or not you accept them as family - whether you continue to 'try' to be a part of their lives, their family.

And if you can delete people - if you can redefine family - then where is it fair to draw the line? I know people who've cut off their family over what seem to me to be nothing. But increasingly, as I move toward a healthier place for myself - I'm seeing that sometimes it's not about what people do so much as how they make you feel. Maybe these families didn't 'do' much to the outsider, but their words and actions, over time, have amounted to an ongoing psychological beating. And who wants to endure that all the time?

I was talking about how a friend might benefit from therapy to deal with some of her family issues. Her father's dead and she said, basically, that every one's parents hurt them - including her father's parents - and you shouldn't hold it against them since they were acting from a place of hurt. I pointed out that this didn't change the fact you'd been damaged and could get help recovering from that. It doesn't have to be about blame.

On the other hand, it occurs to me that it's much easier to 'get over' the pain when the family member is dead. We assume it's because their death gives us perspective, but even now, I understand my dad won't live forever. When your relative dies, they stop inflicting injuries, and you can heal. But while they're alive, they're still causing hurting you - and how can you get over it when just yesterday, your father put you down in the exact same way he did when you were 10? Or when you see him making fun of someone else the same way he did you?

Maybe when I'm healthy and strong, I'll be able to. But I'm not there yet, and I don't think anyone just 'gets there' without reconciling and recovering from the past.

Fortunately, my friend and I were just talking about psychological wounds - not being 'good enough' and being made fun of for our accomplishments. Thankfully, neither of us had to deal with physical or sexual abuse.

So, is it fair, then, to restrict your family interactions while you heal? I think it is.

But I also think maybe some things you can't overlook - physical/sexual abuse, for instance. For me, physical danger and excessive, deliberate psychological abuse all are grounds for being subtracted from family.

| |

Labels: , ,



Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home