Family should be one of the strongest support networks for single parents. From those with more experience and knowledge when it comes to raising children to babysitters to someone to lend an ear when things get rough, family should be a good part of our strength. However, as we all know, all families are different.
There is the well-adjusted, bonded family that reminds me of a pastoral setting. Rolling hills with lush, green grass; beautiful cottages spaced at a distance to provide privacy; walls that exist only for decorative purposes with gates that remain open and welcoming. Those that live in this type of family understand that there will be times when there are floods to cause muddy messes and droughts to cause struggle; however, they endure the mud and drought together, working through these difficulties with encouragement and understanding. There are times when toes get stepped on, but these times are quickly discussed and forgiven so that the family continues to thrive and prosper.
Then there are the families who dreamed of living on those lush, rolling hills, but look out their windows to find rough-edged holes in the ground where bombs have stricken their peaceful valley. Fences are built thick and wide to block out those trying to enter – or to keep those trying to exit captive. Gates often have locks. Between the homes are rows of barbed wire fence and warnings that landmines may lurk there. Sentries stand guard at checkpoints along the way and it is only by complying with a variety of rules and regulations that the family members comingle. It is stressful, but the family will state that “at least we know what to expect” and “this way no one gets hurt.”
Finally there are the families whose landscape looks much like those rolling, lush meadows, but in actuality is much more frightening than guards at checkpoints and warning signs for explosives. There are fences with gates that are halfway opening, inviting others in only for them to find themselves ambushed once inside. There are no barbed wire fences, but there are unmarked landmines every place and when family members go for a walk they take their lives in their hands as they are ever unsure of the territory. Everyone is equipped with poison darts or grenades and none are loathe to use them. Everyone is tense for they are “on guard” at all times. These are the families who personify the adage, “Appearances are deceiving.”
What type of family do you have? Would your family become concerned or defensive if you showed them these three scenarios and asked them? Would the majority of the members of your family be willing to discuss the possibilities and the possible solutions?
It seems strange that for many the concept of family encompasses only those who live within one home. We grow up as children in one home, leave it to start another family in another home, and eventually those children grow up to start another family in another home. We shed our prior family and its members like a snake sheds its skin, largely forgetting the role they have played in our lives up until that point where we discard them. What we do not consider is that one day we will also be left behind.
Worse yet, we hold on to them, slyly convincing them that they are needed and a valued member of the family. Then, one day out of the blue, we inform them with much hostility that they are interfering and we want them gone. Disposable family?
Personally, I cannot imagine disposing of any of my family unless there were extreme circumstances. We may not all agree, but I understand that we have differences. That does not make us good or evil, right or wrong. It simply makes us diverse, which for a family could be a good thing.
Take some time this week to think about your family. If your family falls into the first category of lush meadows and harmony, celebrate it! Call together everyone for an impromptu dinner where you can all celebrate the difference and the similarities. Show thanks that the acceptance in your family allows all to feel as if they are a part of something larger than themselves.
If your family falls into the second category, pick a particular family problem and address it with yourself. What is the real root of the problem? How do you contribute to it? Do other members of your family see the problem differently than you? Ask your family for suggestions on how to “fix” this family problem and develop an action plan for tearing down some of that barbed wire or deactivating some of those landmines. But be careful, if others involved do not see this as a problem, you could wind up like scenario three if you are not careful!
If your family falls into the third category, then please do not put yourself in harm’s way by rushing out to discuss it with a family member. Call ahead. Be sure to have your travel documents available. And above all else, leave your sensitivity at home. Use a stick to prod the ground in front of you. Better to blow up a stick than yourself. Most importantly, keep the thought in the front of your mind that your efforts are designed to resurrect your family and all the benefits it once possessed. Most importantly, as in all strategies it is important to know when to retreat and return another day!
Families are incredibly important to single parents; however, we cannot always count on our families just because we “should” be able to do so. This is why it is so important to remember that the term “family” does not apply to just those who live in the same house. “Family” does not have to have the same blood line, either. Family is about what we carry within our hearts. If you have a category three bloodline family, but a category one friendship, you may want to adopt a new family while keeping the old one in your heart in the event they ever realize what you already know.
Best wishes on maintaining – or reviving - your family!