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Family Affairs

We can choose our friends, as the saying goes, but we are stuck with our families. We are bonded to them for life, whether we want to be or not.

Family dynamics can be a very complex thing. Generally speaking the larger the family is, the more complex the dynamics are within it. Egos and feelings can very often lead to disagreements or misunderstandings that lead to bad feelings that can last for years.

The thing to remember about families is that there is roughly the same percentage of assholes in your family as there are in the general population. In other words if there is one unpleasant person that you encounter day-to-day for every twenty pleasant people, chances are that the same ratio will hold in your family as well.

And that’s the rub. No family is immune to having someone in it that’s a real pill. Whether it’s the ne’er-do-well uncle who sponges money from everyone he knows to the bitchy cousin who takes great satisfaction out of manipulating everyone around her, there is generally at least one person in your own family that you can do without in your life.

I’ve been fortunate because, for the most part, the people in my own family (and my extended family by marriage) have all been quality people that I get along with. There have been a couple who require a good deal of patience, but otherwise I really can’t complain. However, I have come to a few conclusions on family mostly through observing the dynamics in my own, but also in other families I know.

The first thing is that nobody deserves to be treated like crap. If someone in your family is making you miserable, limit your contact with them as much as you can. That’s not always easy to do, particularly in families that are close-knit and get together often socially. In cases where the offending person is going to the same function you are (a wedding, party, reunion etc.) the best course of action is to treat them the same way you should treat anyone you don’t get along with – be cordial, but brief. Limit conversation to greetings and brief pleasantries, but don’t engage them in any lengthy discussion. Should they wish to bring up topics that are disturbing or upsetting, excuse yourself from the conversation. If they insist on confronting you, tell them firmly that you don’t wish to continue the discussion and walk away. Avoid losing your temper and try to be civil at all times. If all else fails, drive them away with rudeness – “I’m sorry Aunt Ginger, I don’t want to talk to you right now because you’re upsetting me. If you don’t mind, I’m going to talk to Uncle Tim before he gets drunk.” Above all, don’t get angry. Chances are, that’s the reaction they’re looking for and there’s no sense giving them the power to manipulate you.

Families are supposed to be a source of strength and support, but it doesn’t always happen that way. I’ve noticed that there are people in every family who are hyper-critical about everyone and have a need to tell everyone in it exactly what their deficiencies are and what needs to be improved. For the most part, these people are well-meaning and if you were to tell them that the result of their best intentions is making you feel small and insignificant they’d be genuinely astonished. They’re really trying to help you better yourself. However, it has to be said that there are some who build themselves up by tearing others down. In either case, take these criticisms with a grain of salt. Either the person giving it is trying purposely to cause pain, in which case they aren’t worth the effort it takes to be angry – or else they’re genuinely trying to help, in which case they should be forgiven for not expressing themselves the way you might like to.

I know families can be a pain in the hind end sometimes, but they are your family. For better or worse they are all that you have that you can really count on. Getting along isn’t always easy but sometimes it’s just easier to swallow your pride and go with the flow. After all, who does it really benefit when you lose your temper and tell your obnoxious brother-in-law to SHUT UP FOR ONCE IN YOUR MISERABLE LIFE – pretty much only you, and then only momentarily. On top of that, if you’re anything like me you feel guilty and ashamed for months after that.

For all the disappointments and annoying crap that your family puts you through, there is also a lot of love and joy that you receive as well. I have to admit that most of my family reside hundreds of miles away from where I live, and distance can be a factor – absence, after all, makes the heart grow fonder. Still, I’m glad I can see my mom and my mother-in-law regularly. I count on their guidance in both cases. That doesn’t mean I love my cousins, aunts, uncles, siblings (actual and in-law), nieces or nephews any less. In fact, it makes the time we do get to spend together all the more precious. I simply don’t have time to spend on being hurt or annoyed.

Blood is thicker than water, and other than a couple of crazy professional wrestlers, nobody really wants to shed their own blood. Dealing with families means carrying a pair of blinders and wearing your extra-thick skin at times, but it also means having people in your life that are there for life. It’s not just the devil you know, it’s also the angels you know that keep us in life’s warmest embrace.


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