Families are often messy — but they are one of the most important determinants of stability and identity in our lives!
Neal and Diane Arnold
In my generation, we tried to put a pretty face on all family issues to anyone from the outside. How is the family doing? Everything is great — No issues — We love each other. This however, did not work so well. Why? In short, it was not truthful and we all became parties to a lie — a fake persona of the family. It became cliché’ to have a wonderful look on the outside and dark secrets on the inside in our families. Why did we try to project this image to others? We wanted them to not think badly of us or we wanted people not to pry into our private lives.
For some reason, we all believed it would be better if no one knew our reality at home — the real us. The result was we all learned how to ignore or hide from these important relationships. We put on pleasant smiles but inside we lived with crumbling relationships and foundations of our families. We thought these secrets could be hidden and we tried to ignore the pain. Unfortunately, family issues do not magically get better without facing them with courage. If we are honest — we all have family issues. We have created a false view of family life. We need a new blueprint to begin to develop healthy family patterns.
These healthy core ingredients include:
- Authenticity — Trust follows from authenticity. We all have internal buzzers that give us a check if we think someone is not honest. Misunderstanding readily follows when we do not reveal our true selves. We agree we should not share everything with everyone we meet. However, there is a significant difference between pretending everything is ok when it is not and being thoughtful about who we share sensitive issues.
- Vulnerability — if we do not risk showing others who we really are they are building a relationship with someone who does not exist. The lack of vulnerability is not a place of safety — it is actually a place of pain and loneliness. This is the lie we sometimes live.
- Respect/honor — Respect is holding another in esteem or honor; or showing consideration or regard for another. We are obviously all different, but respect/honor requires us to value those differences. We must want the best for others around us. We are not healthy when we believe when others succeed we are somehow diminished.
- Forgiveness — we will mess up at some point in all relationships. We all have bad days. We do dumb things. Will we take steps to repair even when it costs us? This is especially true in relationships if we are the leader. How hard is it for you to say I am sorry — I was wrong?
- Value for the relationship — there are relationships we value differently than others. We often call these close friends or like family. Our actions toward the other person tells us how much we value this relationship no matter what we say.
- Be able to communicate our most important needs and desires to the other person — this may seem risky to begin with but others will not know what we want or need without telling them. We can only have others fulfill our needs if we tell them clearly. Learning how to do this will take time and patience.
- We must allow relationships to be dynamic — we all change, our lives change — people grow. If we do not allow those around us to change and grow, they will hide more and more from us. This is especially true of parents of adult children. It also happens when we have other “parent/child” relationships. We must be careful to make it safe for those around us to share their thoughts and feelings — even if we do not like to hear them.
Given the list above, most of us have some areas to work on in our families. Why not sit down and develop a new road map for these relationships in your family. Can I put these ingredients into practice in our family today? We must lead by example. Do not secretly grade those around us. Begin to make healthy changes.
So why are family gatherings often so painful or drama filled? Because those closest to us are well acquainted with the real us. If the real us does not connect with what we tell others we are, we have created a place of resentment for those we love. If we do not allow those closest to us to give us honest feedback — we deprive ourselves of the opportunity to change and get better. We remove our ability to repair from these relationships.
None of us are right all the time. Is it ok to be wrong in your family? Can family members give us tough, solid feedback? Do we place high value for the feedback those closest to us can provide us? Maybe those closest to us have given up hope and stopped trying to help us improve. Our family environment needs be a generous “greenhouse” of growth and support for everyone.
Most of us lack a clear plan or the stakes have become too high. We hope this helps you begin the journey of healthy relationships in your family. You might have to begin by saying you are sorry for getting off track. Then be prepared to demonstrate this. We promise it will begin to unveil the destiny placed in family for all of us.