So many friends I am close to seem to be involved in family disputes lately. Okay, we are all just human, and humans often make mistakes; we fail and destroy even the most normal relationships. Surely we should be able to avoid that outcome?
But it seems we can’t and I have been guilty too of saying something when I should have kept quiet and of assuming something about a person and being wrong; some things can’t be taken back and we just have to move on and live life as best we can. I hope now at this late stage of our lives that I have learned to proceed with caution should I be in the same position in the future.
The saddest thing is when children in their 30s or 40s decide that all their life problems are their parents’ fault. Marriage break up? Body shape? Lack of confidence? Blame the parents. Yet if you look around there are examples of successful lives even after the most tumultuous childhood. The writer of Angela’s Ashes had a vile childhood – poverty, deprivation and sickness – yet he went on to write and become a success. Another example: a friend of ours was abandoned and brought up in an orphanage in Victoria. He was then ‘dumped’ in our small town at 15 with no real connections and expected to make a life for himself. He worked hard and prospered, found a soul mate and had ten children. He is now 80 and living a full life in his retirement. So many war time babies had a tough life, yet they were the generation that built what we have now.
I have often said to my children, “O.K. I made mistakes and you have survived pretty well in spite of them”! In my opinion parents usually do the best they can. The times we live through dictate what happens.
There are the exceptions and will always be some that have no idea, as they have never been given good guidance themselves. Parenting styles have changed and they will go on changing, with each generation sure they have it right and the others have it wrong. Our style was more the ‘tough’ love: bed times were only negotiable at weekends or on holiday. We expected reasonable manners and we ate together, no talking back was ever allowed and it never happened, although there might have been some muttering and slammed doors of course! I don’t mean we were always strict and harsh, a lot of laughs accompanied the lifestyle and we could always talk things through. Our grown up family came on holiday with us willingly when they were teenagers and that doesn’t happen in a miserable family.
In all families there are of course the ‘blinkered’ and self-centred members: the aunt who expects the world to revolve around her, or the brother with a few bad habits. With these types disputes and conflict do arise at times, so how to deal with it? I am no expert, but have found the best way is to accept they are different and try and bite your tongue when the desire to vent arises. Yet that view has taken me about 50 years to attain.
Rule 1: always leave the door open for negotiation. If they don’t come to visit, then that is their loss. Send them a card now and then or a phone message. They might one day come to their senses. Angry words take a long time to die away and be forgotten, they may never be forgotten.
If not still try to forgive them. We are not wired the same. Some people are destined for a lonely old age, I am deeply saddened when I hear of someone dying alone and not being found, there is often a story behind those happenings.
Christmas Crisis – who to go to for the lunch and dinner? This is a sticky one…we sort of go our own way as we have come to accept that some families have a real closeness; they always go home to Mum. It is not the same for us. If our daughter lived here and not in England, I am sure we would share that festive time more often. We have grown used to having the meals we choose now, and sometimes that is best. When I worked in aged care I often was on duty Christmas Day anyway and would just have a huge seafood platter to come home to, that and a cold glass of bubbly was pretty special.
I love my family and I loved those I have lost too. We are all different, and life pulls us in directions we don’t choose to go, yet through it all there is a bond, there are invisible strings, and we are still connected.