What is a family?
I am often perplexed at the difference between how I define “family” and how I observe others to define it. So, I decided I would first look at the technical definition of family: “fam•i•ly ~ a group consisting of parents and children living together in a household or a group of people related to one another by blood or marriage.” Most of all, it means a person or people related to one another and so to be treated with a special loyalty or intimacy.
This seems simple to understand. And it should be easy to observe; however, the more closely I look at families, I see that my reality is not everyone else’s. For me, this realization has been like swallowing a rock. I have always assumed that all families were automatically close because of the special bond they share and that special loyalty they have—or should have—to one another. I always believed that all families were there for each other and that all families would communicate in such a way that it would build you up and not break you down. that’s not always true.
I was raised as the youngest of six. I can happily say that I have never really wanted for much in my lifetime. I have family. It has provided me with a comfort zone where I can rest, a place to laugh, cry, sing and play. This family is constantly changing but always there for each other no matter what the cost. I have never worried about being myself with my family. I am blessed.
In working with the public and observing how society has changed in its relationship to family, I have come to the conclusion that the lack of regard or respect for the family bond or unit could be a contributing factor to the discord that we find in our society.
Families are the foundation of society. It’s where we come into the world, are nurtured and given the tools to go out into the world, capable and healthy—or aren’t. While families have the greatest potential for raising healthy individuals, they can also wound their members in places that will never heal. When families break down and fail to provide the nurturing we need, the effects have an impact not only on our own lives, but also our communities.
In other words, we all pay for unhealthy families. If we ignore the suffering, we all suffer the consequences.
So, as I continue to try and figure out why some families don’t understand that they should communicate openly, love unconditionally and respect each other, I will also continue to love my family for who they are, respect their lives for what they are and be true to the lessons that my parents have instilled in me. I will also pray that the rest of the world jumps on the bandwagon and realizes that their family should always come first before self interest, the acquaintance down the road or the stranger in the next town. Then, maybe, just maybe, the lessons we learn within our own families will pour out into our communities in a more cohesive manner. After all, our communities are supposed to feel like family. Does yours ?
[Jennifer Diehl is a resident of Cochecton, NY.]