Everybody’s family is a little bit… quirky.
We all have those aunts, uncles, cousins, or even parents that the only reason you know you spend time with them is because you’re related. An Uncle that likes to take his shirt off on Christmas and wrestle with the family dog. An Aunt that always tries to bring up how she won Mrs Vermont in ’97. Even a cousin that actually seems to enjoy instigating fights, but plays the victim when you confront them. They’re the spice in our life to remind us we are not logical people. It also gives us the opportunity to experience things we might typically try to avoid entirely.
I say this because, as a species, humans generally perceive “Perfect” as never being outside of their comfort zone until they’re ready to be outside their own comfort zone. Well good news! The world isn’t perfect and you were born into a family that’s overflowing with opportunity to expand and grow your definition of “perfect”.
These family members push and poke that proverbial comfort zone to the point we sometimes have an internal monologue similar to this one.
Innervoice: “Why do we spend time with them?”
Yourself: “Because they’re family.”
Innervoice: “You’re aware they just tried to set the cat on fire… again.”
Innervoice: “Pretty sure Obama isn’t to blame for their 5th tummy tuck.”
Yourself: “Probably not.”
Innervoice: “They just called you a heathen, spent 30 minutes listing your faults, then made you feel guilty because the only time they see you is on the holidays and family gatherings.”
Yourself: “Yeah. That sucked.”
Innervoice: “Remind me again why we’re spending time with them??”
Yourself: “Because they’re family.”
Innervoice: “….. seriously?!?”
“Because they’re family” …. “Because they’re family”…. It’s like your brain can’t even fathom a redeemable attribute for that person so you decide to state the obvious. Do animals in the wild go through this same sequence? Does a penguin in Antarctica believe so deeply that all penguins should receive free health care that his brother squawks “THAT. IS. IT!” and waddles over to another part of the island never to see his brother again? Is that penguin then riddled with guilt 10 years later and tries to reconnect with his brother only to realize why they never got along in the first place? DO PENGUINS EVEN CARE?!?
“Because they’re family” becomes the thread that keeps you connected instead of the braided cord you secretly want it to be. “Because they’re family” gives you just enough hope (or guilt) to keep them in your life; whether it’s at arms length or the state minimum 500 feet.
At some point, you might find yourself daydreaming about how your life would be so deliriously happy without them. You don’t wish them ill. You don’t even hope to never see them again. You just want to subtract their influence from your life equation. Just give me as little contact with them as possible while still being “civil”, or dare I say, “kind”. If it’s apparent we don’t get along, why are we forcing it?
I started writing this post while I was seriously contemplating cutting that “Because they’re family” thread. I didn’t see the point of keeping someone in your life who makes you feel like you’re a very selfish and awful person… Actually, I should replace “feel like” with “tells you flat out”. There is nothing left for the imagination. Nothing.
Now, an aunt who dresses like Effie from The Hunger Games is eccentric; but a baneful family member feels carcinogenic. We don’t need to visit every detail of my interactions with them because I’m sure that story is shared with many others. A brief overview is that some family members believe they’re always right (but won’t say that), some members believe they’re being mistreated or misunderstood (and don’t mind saying that), and some members think those two descriptions are about the other members in the family and not of themselves.
This causes more drama than MTV or TLC would want. We don’t have family feuds with Steve Harvey. We have fights and bring lawyers. There are more misunderstandings in our family than someone trying to use sign language with only their middle fingers and there’s more hurt feelings than a Firefly fanboy after the death of Wash (STILL not over that one, Joss! You hear me?!). I don’t really see this pattern changing, so what am I supposed to do?
Luckily for me, I’ve got a huge family and most of them I consider myself very blessed to be in their lives. A wise man reminded me during this time that some things are just not my problem. We can control what we do and how we respond; but anything past that would be manipulation and that’s not love. If they’re holding you emotionally hostage, don’t give them the power. If you have more people saying you are a good person than are not, consider their view an opinion and not a fact.
So I guess this is just one of those little life lessons that doesn’t come with an easy answer. I don’t know how each interaction will go or how much I should push for their acceptance. It doesn’t have to be clear because life is messy. If it was orderly, we’d never grow, we’d rarely learn things we need to learn, and our comfort zone would remain perfectly in tact. Besides, that’s not what I want on my epitaph anyway.
… I just hope they spell “quintessential” correctly…