Thursday, August 5, 2010

Every Family Has Its Problems

I hear this phrase a lot, every family has its problems. There are times when knowing everyone is struggling can be helpful. I have had a lot of friends tell me recently that their kids are also out of control or that they too are exhausted by the sibling rivalry going on in their home. I enjoy the camaraderie of knowing I am not alone feeling like an out of control Mommy. It does bring me some comfort to know that other kids are acting up this summer and that mine are not the only ones. It makes it feel less personal and more universal. I like to share parenting woes with my friends and know I am not the only one who has a dream of running away from home. Though I am not sure if everyone has quite as well thought out a runaway plan as I do. Just know that if you need to find me when I runaway, I will be in London, probably in a tea shop reading a book or visiting lots of historical locations that smell musty and are really, really quiet. This run away to London plan is part of the reason I was so annoyed when I realized my passport was lost. Thankfully, I have a new passport just itching to be used. But I digress...

I also hear this phrase a lot when I talk about some of the struggles I have currently with my parents as well as the dysfunctional childhood I had. I think because I turned out normal, well let's all be honest - relatively normal, people think that it couldn't have been that unusual a childhood. And I do have to agree that for a dysfunctional family, we really did have it together. There was no abuse, no swearing and very little shouting. We always had food and a clean home. At times we looked like a pretty terrific family. But that was part of the dysfunction. There was a subtlety to the crazy that was happening at our house, one that looked good in the moment but had some weird long term consequences. It took me years of living outside my parents house to start to feel like my own person. Years of being married and even having kids to start to define myself outside of my relationship to my parents. I could go on and on about the "problems" but there is really no usefulness in that, except that at times, I feel like I have to justify and explain the severity of my dysfunctional family. Because the problems we had were way beyond the "every family has its problems" variety. Yes, we all have the weird aunt who gives subscriptions to National Geographic Magazine to teenage boys as Christmas gifts or the Uncle who want to share his drugs with the family at holiday celebrations. There is the special needs brother or the unemployed father who is struggling to keep it together. There is the depressed mom. Every family has its black sheep. I know because I am pretty sure I am the black sheep in my inlaws family. But then there are those few families whose struggles are way outside the norm, whose homes are places of worry and anxiety, whose kids become responsible for the adults.

There are problems and then there is dysfunction. And to respond to my story with "every family has its problems" sort of negates my experience and also makes me really worried for my family. I don't want my kids to have my experience. I am working hard to give them a different family life. I hold onto to the hope that there are happy family's out there. Family's that have problems but come together in a healthy way in those moments. If I did not have hope that parents can be loving, supportive, healthy and independent of their kids, then I would not have had kids. I want to give them a great childhood and then send them off into the world to create their own lives, lives that are defined by their dreams, their hopes and their faith.

I imagine when I am sitting next to a mom whose child cannot speak complaining about my kid who won't stop talking about Pokemon, or complaining about the cost of hockey to a dad who just lost his job and cannot pay for food let alone sports programs for his kid, or getting frustrated with the school because the books they have for my son to read are not really at his level, I am being that person. The one who says every family has its problems, acting like all kids struggle, when in reality there are degrees of struggle and my woes do not really even begin to rise to the status of a problem.

Perspective is a good thing. Stepping outside my life and seeing the world through other people's eyes is a good thing. It shows me how blessed and lucky I really am. It gives me an honest measure of my frustrations and brings down the anxiety a few notches. I need to remember this. I need to remind myself that I diminish the very real struggles of others when I harp too much on the everyday, normal challenges I face. I also give those challenges way too much power in my life, I let the challenge over take my day, my week, my month. It becomes my focus and it grows bigger, harder and more overwhelming that it really is. Perspective can bring things down to their proper size.

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