What Makes Family Worth the Trouble?


The holiday season is officially upon us: a season that usually brings with it an extra helping of family time. There is something about spending a concentrated time together (coupled with the pressure of a “merry” holiday) that for many of us carries the potential for some major family feuds. My family of origin is no different, and we have dealt with our fair share of conflict and misunderstanding over the years.

My youngest sister lives out a moral code that is significantly different than mine, living a lifestyle that I consider unsafe and disrespectful of others. My older brother married a woman whom I dislike and do not trust. He and I have always been close and gotten along really well, so their marriage was a major blow to me and to our relationship (especially since everyone knew how I felt about it). And like many other people, a lifetime’s worth of frustration has built up between my parents and myself. The things we do and opinions we have get on each other’s nerves at times, and sometimes I have found it helpful to put up boundaries for certain periods.

So with all the family drama, why stick with these people? Why not just go off and live my own life with my friends, husband, and children? Well, because I believe it’s important to be rooted somewhere in this life. I believe it’s important for my sense of wholeness in the world. I believe it’s important for my children’s sense of self, and even for their sense of security. I believe in commitment to other human beings, whether or not we get to choose who those relationships are with.

In the past those differences between my sister and I really separated us and we’re still struggling to regain a meaningful relationship, ten years after the differences began to arise. But these days I try to focus more on what we have in common than on what we don’t, because the bottom line is that she’ll always be my sister and I want her to know that I’m here for her no matter what.

And after some years, I have come to realize that my brother’s life choices are his own. I can’t change them, but they also don’t have to change the friendship between him and me. I stopped bringing up complaints against his wife and instead focused on topics that unify us, like our children, who love each other and who we both want to have a friendship themselves.

Finally, my father in particular struggles with mental health issues and being in relationship with him can be emotionally draining at times. There was one season of my life when I needed very specific boundaries, like no visits lasting longer than 3 days. But things have gotten better between us in the past few years, and I have been able to discard those boundaries and love him as a man who gave me life instead of holding in resentment.

My family is not perfect, no family is. But I need my family of origin. I know that if I have a crisis, they will be the first ones there. If I want to share the news of my baby girl taking her first step, I still inexplicably text my family first. My entire life has been intertwined with these people, whether like it or not. I cannot sever that tie without also severing a piece of myself. So, I have come to embrace all of it: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

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