Saturday, September 26, 2009

Family is a mystery to me

Families are complex things. I know this - my own family is a mess of complexity and I have had enough therapy over the years, at different times in my life, to begin to become somewhat accomodating to the messiness that is my family. For the last seven months I have also had my spouse's family living in - well, my living room. And complex is the least of the adjectives I can find to describe this situation.

Tonight, after seven months, they are gone - back to Africa. And I miss his parents deeply already, while at the same time I am also finally exhaling for the first time in a long, long time. With their being gone now also comes the possible end of any real familial closeness with the other part of his family here in our city....and although I care deeply for the two small off-spring that come with this package, their parents, my spouse's brother and wife, well, I hope for an at least temporary reprieve from their seeming need for drama, complaints and complications.

But while tonight has finally afforded Spouse and I a chance to compare notes on the he-said, she-said aspects of the past seven months, I am still struck by the complexity, the bizarreness of familial relationship. What it is that actually binds us together in families? In the case of my own brother and I - different as we are - it is a spoken understanding that no matter what, the bottom line is that we will always be there for each other. That doesn't mean we always get along, doesn't mean that we approve of how the other lives, that we always feel some kind of Hallmark card kind of love for each other - it seems to be, as he and I have worked it out over the years, that we will not need the other's approval yet we will back each other up when needed, no matter who or what the opponent may be. And we don't talk all that often, although we live in the same city; we don't live similar lives at all; we don't even see the same way on alot of things that with anyone else would be non-negotiables. But when we are together we manage to say more without words than with - we are, no matter what, no matter who, a united front, and would be if circumstances had been different, friends if we met. God help anyone who tries to bring the other one down - because there is a second wave lined up and ready to attack if necessary.

It is not merely DNA, not merely genetics, not merely environment or a shared history and background that binds my brother and I together....except all of these contributes to an often unspoken understanding when needed. At the base of it all, we just like each other even when we don't (something only siblings may be able to understand) - as people and accept each other for who, what, and how we have become. Neither needs the others approval. What we have together is deeper than that. So familial relationship is the tie that the public see, and is the tie that brought us together - but it is not all that there is.

Without that simple yet oh-so-difficult aspect, how do siblings get along in adult life? How do you begin to accomodate vast differences in morality, in responsibility, in daily actions and choices? And how do the parents caught in this vortext cope? I have seen my in-laws' hearts broken over the divisions between their children and at the same time seen my own parents frustrated at the unquestioning wall my own brother and I can draw between them and us.

How will my boys be when they are older? Will they be friends not only because they are brothers but because they genuinely enjoy each other? Or will they be at odds - not because of birth order or any other environmental factor....but just because?

I hope I will not one day be as my my mother-in-law has been, in tears over the wide gulf between my children that nothing or no one can bridge. My spouse admits he will always, no matter what, be there for his brother. But I think it is not for the same reasons that my own brother and I say the same thing. Acceptance versus duty-by-DNA. My brother and I are an unquestionable team because we choose to be, not because we must be. Which way will my own two boys go? And what is my role in the outcome?


  1. Unfathomable questions, really. It's when it's said and done that it seems we should have, could have, would have done differently if only we'd known, and it's always apparent in hindsight . . . . I so hope my kids will love one another (as they do now) and have a better relationship than my spouse and his sister; that one is like your spouse's with his brother.

    Interesting that you and your brother have such a deep connection despite your profound differences, and that you attribute this to something more than a blood connection. And also, that you tend to exclude your parents in that togetherness. Do you think you bond because of a shared need for protection from your parents or their family relationships?

  2. Good question...I think as children and as adults we recognized a need to protect ourselves and each other from the emotional inconsistencies of our mother. She did well, and does well, given the circumstances and conditions in which she was mothered and learned to mother. But as she ages, her idiosyncrasies, to but a positive spin on it, grow deeper, more pronounced and more emotionally charged. My brother and I from long habit immediately can sense the shift in familial under currents, the change in who is in favour and who is not, and move quickly to protect the other. And he makes me laugh. A lot.

  3. Ah, I just discovered now why I never get notification of comments made on your blog: they go to my gmail account, which I never use, and do not even know how to access. I'm going to try to get rid of this g-mail address and get my yahoo address to be the go-to address. Use my yahoo one: evalbutton at yahoo dot com.

    Well, your mother sounds EXACTLY like mine, and my brother, too, is very good at sensing "shifts in familial undercurrents" (so well put), and he has a great sense of humor about them. Doesn't get worked up, like me. But certainly doesn't protect me, either. None of us did that for each other among my siblings. I wonder why. Age difference, maybe. Or maybe because we were all too geographically spread out in our schools.

    But fascinating stuff. I love the "positive spin" you put on the idiosyncrasies. I'm trying to do the same with my mother, as I see that age does accentuate certain of her traits with the result that they are more like caricatures than weapons (at least in my experience).

  4. As a mother what I felt was to develop Healthy eating habits in Kids.From a child's perspective feeding is an expression of parental control, eating is about being and staying in touch with their own body.... One always feels overwhelmed by claims about the impact of different foods on child’s health. Nourishment always depends upon ingredients and method of preparation with no pressure tactics. Healthy Eating Kids