Do perfect families exist and what what do they look like? This of course is a rhetorical question and there just is no such thing as a perfect family. The issue is more of what our definition is of “perfect” to each of us and if that definition is realistic or not.
As we all know there are many types of families and they all work in one way or another. This part really isn’t the point of this entry. Currently, 30 percent of American families are now headed by single parents, either divorced, widowed, or never married. Some children live in foster families; others live in step-families or in gay and lesbian families. In more than two thirds of families, both parents work outside the home.
Here are a few myths and one thing I would like to normalize for everyone including my clients.
Myth: Family Harmony Is The Rule, Not The Exception
Although family life is often romanticized, it has always been filled with conflicts and tension. Difficulties between spouses are commonplace, with disagreements arising over issues ranging from how the children should be raised to how the family finances should be budgeted. Husbands and wives also often struggle with their inability to sustain romantic infatuation beyond the first few years of their marriage, thus having to learn to maintain a relationship in which partnership and companionship may become more important than passionate love.
Parent-children conflicts are commonplace too. As parents assert their authority, and children try to assert their autonomy appropriately, strife is inevitable.
While we often expect families to be above the chaos that exists in the rest of society, that outlook places unrealistic expectations upon the family. In the real world, families are not always a haven, since they, too, can be filled with conflict. Although stress and disagreements are common, they can be destructive to families, especially when conflict gets out of hand. Families are under constant stress, being pushed and pulled from many directions, often without the support systems of extended families that may have existed in the past.
MYTH: The Stability of A Family Is A Measure of Its Success
Change is a part of life. Death, illness, physical separation, financial strains, divorce . . . these are some of the events families have to adjust to. Consequently, stability shouldn’t be the only measure of a family’s success. Many families function quite well, despite frequent disruptions. In fact, one important measure of a family’s success is its ability to adjust to change. Daily life is full of stresses that constantly demand accommodation from family members.
MYTH: Parents Control Their Children’s Fate
In reality, parents cannot determine how their children will turn out. Inevitably, children assert their autonomy, creating a niche for themselves separate from their parents. At the same time, many factors external to both the child and family can influence the way a child develops.
Even within the same family there can be tremendous individual variations among siblings in intelligence, temperament, mood, and sociability. Yet despite these differences, parents are responsible for imparting to each child a sense of being loved and accepted, for helping each child to succeed at various developmental tasks, and for socializing each child into respecting the rules and accepting the responsibilities society imposes. These are indeed awesome tasks.
Some parents perceive themselves as having total responsibility for their children’s fate. This belief places a heavy and unrealistic emotional burden on them as well as their youngsters. If the children are having problems, they often feel a sense of failure; likewise, the children feel as though they have let their family down if they do not live up to their parents’ expectations. In essence, parents can influence and shape but cannot control their children’s lives.
We each bring different baggage to the table…and yes, we ALL have baggage. Those people that think they don’t are the ones I am most concerned about. We are attracted to one another because there is a common dynamic with our family of origin unless we have done extensive work on ourselves and move past those patterns. This doesn’t mean it is a bad thing, it just is how we are attracted to each other. We feel chemistry and passion with someone that strikes a cord with us somewhere deep down. The work is to recognize those dynamics that aren’t working for you and become more aware of them. Being present in the moment is where you can start and try identifying where those past feelings could have occurred. Generally fights between partners aren’t even about each other but about past wounds and this is where it gets complicated.
I encourage therapy or group process work to push through these issues. If you ignore them they will only build and get deeper. Reading and educating yourself on family dynamics is also a helpful tool. It is most helpful to know that no one escapes this in life and we all have things to work through in our relationships…some just have is easier than others…but that is a relative term.
Amoreena Berg, MFT