Families operate inside of roles, implied agreements, and certain understandings that have been en grained over time. As the father of three boys, I see the roles my boys identify with, such as the sensitive one, the responsible one, the funny one, etc. (FYI: Which one is which is set forth at the end of the article.)
We often dread the holiday because they can’t be themselves. We have a lot of responsibility to get things perfect and be on our best behavior. We are forced into a family setting with family members who may lack sensitivity or may be outright obnoxious.
I have personally seen this dynamic play out in families on the political front. Sitting around the dinning room table with liberals and conservatives. To the Trump supporter, they will be sitting with their irresponsible family members who support freeloaders who fail to take personal responsibility in their lives. Family members who support the “takers.” To the liberals, they are sitting with dim witted individuals who lack compassion, support the uber wealthy, and fail to understand that we are not going back to the alleged “good old days.” “Good old days” for a few but disenfranchised women and minorities.
The reality is by focusing on the roles we see, we fail to see the individuals. We fail to see the nuance. It’s difficult to see someone beyond a label “Trump Supporter” or “Bleeding Heart Liberal.” We feel safe in labeling our family members – using political labels or other labels. The problem is that when we see past those labels, the world becomes more complex and difficult to navigate.
Over the past (almost) 50 years, I have heard a lot of definitions of love. The one that has proven most true in my life is a simple one, “Love is acceptance.” You love a family member by accepting them. You see them. By its very definition, roles will not suffice. People are extremely complex.
A second important quote when seeing and navigating the flaws of our family members is a truism captured in the bible, “I can see the splinter in your eye, but I cannot see the log in mine.” Put another way, you are unable to see when the way your handling a situation boarders on neurotic because your caught up in your own story. Yelling about the turkey being dry or the food being cold is silly. You don’t see it that way when your doing the yelling, but you can easily see it in another when they are doing the yelling.
So be kind with your family members. Keep judgment at a minimum, and accept them for who they are. With any luck, perhaps they will do the same.
As to the roles of my boys – the sensitive one, the responsible one, and the funny one. Those roles change on a daily and often on a moment to moment basis. The boys are much to complex and dynamic to peg them so easily.