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Creating Healthy Family Relationships in Adulthood

Unrealistic Expectations:
(Relating to Relations)
1. Disappointment over THEIR failure to live up to YOUR ideal
2. Asking for something the other person doesn’t have to give, or is unwilling to part with, i.e. acceptance of a child’s choices or an acknowledgment of his/her own wrongdoing.
3. The belief that adequate planning and the “right” appearance or activities will equal spontaneous healing of all old wounds.

“I don’t understand!” My friend nearly wailed, “all I want is for my siblings and parents and I to be able to spend time together and enjoy each other like a normal family!” She had worked for a good two months planning this get-together that would involve siblings, divorced parents, and in-laws, not to mention the newer generation comprising the children of each sibling and his or her spouse, the grandchildren of the two divorced parents. Predictably, in spite of her having envisioned cozy sing-alongs, weenie roasts, and a charade tournament, the atmosphere had quickly devolved into sullen resentments from childhood, criticism of each others’ current parenting, and a fight or ten over which adult child was favored, who was slighted by whom and why, and, of course, who had actually been at fault that one time 20 years ago when you-know-what happened. But, hey, my friend did get what she wanted—a long weekend with adult siblings, parents, everyone’s in-laws and children, all behaving like every other “normal” family!

The basic unit of society and the gospel, family is supposed to strengthen and protect us. We are supposed to delight in each other, spending time together whenever possible, right? Well, yes. But families are made up of imperfect mortals, each with her own history and experience, each with his own personality and expectations. Speaking of those expectations, there are many more variations than the examples at the top. What they all have in common is that they form a nice big stumbling block to our happiness with our extended families. As much as we love each other, and even if we all want basically the same thing, that entirely functional, drama-free, mutually strengthening dynamic may never be realized in this lifetime. Practicing forgiveness and adjusting our expectations will allow us to honor our Father in Heaven and participate in our childhood families as healthily and often as possible.

Prior to diving in to my list of suggestions, let me make clear that I am not addressing situations where real abuse or danger is present or likely. Yes, we are required to “judge not unrighteously” and to forgive all men, but this does not supersede the requirement to protect ourselves and others, in particular our children, from harm. Nor does forgiveness mean that a person who has committed a crime should avoid the legal or moral consequences of his or her actions. It may be that abuse from the past ought to be reported and investigated, even if it occurred long ago. Or it may be that a person’s behavior is erratic or emotionally dangerous enough that even though she is not likely to physically harm someone, too much unsupervised contact with her would be emotionally or spiritually harmful to your children. In this and in all things seek the Lord’s guidance, and follow the inspiration and promptings of the Holy Ghost, asking your Bishop’s counsel when needed, as well.

For the remainder of those sticky familial situations, keep these suggestions in mind:

Of course, each of these strategies involves forgiveness and the exercise of mercy. It is impossible to accept what each family member is able to offer if we are holding on to our hurt over her failings in the past. Family is a gift from our loving Father, an opportunity to for an unbreakable, eternal team, a unit that will sustain us through everything we face in this life, and rejoice with us in the hereafter. Unfortunately it does not always work that way, and too often seems to resemble almost the opposite. How blessed we are, then, that in this, as in all other aspects of life, that same Father stands ready to fill in the holes that are made or left by imperfect human beings. If we are willing to cast the burden of pain and disappointment onto our Savior, forgiving those we love, seeking to interact with them in wisdom and compassion, He can and will make up for what those relationships lack, healing every hurt and helping us to become more like Him. Continued repentance, forgiveness and endurance will deliver us into the arms of an eternal family yet.

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