One of the great gifts bestowed on me was not feeling any need to uphold the good name of my family.
When young, I was never told, “don’t do anything that would bring shame to your family name.”
I never heard anything like that until I attended church.
When I did, it struck me as a self evident truth like: “don’t run a red light.” But as I started having children of my own I couldn’t bring myself to tell them that.
It would have been manipulative. It would have been an unhealthy symptom that I was trying to press the diversity of my children through a funnel of conformity.
Let’s Face Facts
Let’s face it. No family has an unblemished record of perfect comportment. Families are a mixture of complex relationships that create all different sorts of personalities.
Families are half way houses that allow us all to grow up enough to get out on our own. Ideally, they can be more than that, but they don’t have to be any more than that.
The ultimate expression of being human is to experience “individuality.” Being human is positive only if it is experienced as an individual.
Family life is there to protect a child until they have sufficiently matured to be able to handle life on their own. Thereafter, a young adult is not expected to be a slave to the family that raised them. A family’s success is the release of its members so that they may taste of the greatest amount of freedom possible.
There are special cases that might supersede this idea, but they should be rare and unusual. For example: my mother came down with cancer my last semester of college. I decided to forego graduate school and a contract to start teaching in another state in order to stay home and help. My wife of four months agreed with me. My mother on the other hand threatened to die on the spot if I did. Her success was making sure I had become fully independent. My father was fully capable of caring for her she said.
Don’t Compare Families To Synthetic Creations
Don’t fall into the trap of prioritizing the worth of family life against other activities. One very well known football player was asked what is most important to him. He said, “family comes first, faith is second, career is third.”
I admire what he said, but the comparison is faulty.
Family is far more fundamental than anything it can be compared to. The entire animal kingdom is based on family membership. Only humans have tagged on things like religion and careers. In other words family membership is universal, faith and careers are synthetic creations. Not all animals have a religion or a career, but all animals have a family.
In its category, family is not just number one, it is the only one. It’s the one we were born with. We didn’t choose it, nor did it choose us. Family is natural like the ground you walk on, the air you breathe, the skin on your body. Other things like religion and career you choose. To lump family, religion and career together is intellectual shortsightedness. Family is like the soil of the earth, the other things are restaurant meals. Don’t confuse them by comparing them.
Families Are Old
Families do not need preserving. They have been around far longer than “man made institutions”, and will be around long after institutions have evaporated, and have been replaced with new ones.
Be careful when an organization or institution says its purpose is to preserve the family. Often times they use the family as an excuse to preserve some political or financial interest they are tied to.
Families are too ancient and ubiquitous for parents to feel guilty over what they did or did not provide. Evolution and genetic codes have a lot to do with what makes us tick. Give it your best shot, and you’ll be pretty close to what a child will become. In others words, it’s not all up to you.
Children can end up being close friends with parents when they arrive at adulthood. But sometimes they don’t. There’s nothing wrong with that, in fact that’s pretty natural. Not everyone we meet in life we end up having a close relationship with. Why would we expect anything more from a family? To be perfectly honest, we probably should expect less.
Some Friendly Advice
My personal philosophy when raising my children was: love them, give them a chance to read, and don’t be physically or emotionally cruel. They’ll take it from there.
For parents who have special needs children, you know better than the rest of us about the challenges of family life. I bow to your wisdom over mine. Feel free to comment at any time.
For parents who have children who have a difficult time in getting started in life, don’t worry, you’re not alone.
For parents who harbor guilt for not being more enlightened on subjects like homosexuality, don’t worry, most of us feel that way: we were sold a bill of goods. Take your licks, learn your lessons, and get on down the road.
For parents who live in cultures where it is expected that children are obedient and loyal, and succumb to arranged marriages, and maintain a very close relationship throughout a life time, I apologize for my thoroughly western approach to family life. I respect your culture and customs. Perhaps we can agree to disagree on this subject, and keep a respectful dialog going.