Thursday, May 28, 2009

Naïve about the Norm

During the years I lived at home with my parents, both houses on either side of theirs got robbed at different points. I remember thinking it was sort of incredible theirs never got hit. Not once in 40 years. Somehow, our house was impervious.

And the older I get, the more I think our family was, too.

Our immediate family unit never had any scandal. No infidelity, no addictions, no abuse, no illness. We were like the Keatons, the Huxtables, the Seavers. And I thought that was the norm—that every family was like us. There were kids around me whose parents were divorced, but I just thought they were oddities. Mutations within my bubbled population of perfection.

Then I grew up.

And watched my siblings and their friends get married and start families. And watched my friends get married and start families. And learned secrets about my own extended family, and the relatives of all the various guys I dated. And I realized that my own immediate family was an anomaly.

The majority is not scandal-free. It seems like more people are born—or end up—in homes colored by cheating, drinking, gambling, abuse, or physical or mental illness. It’s the norm.

And I have to wonder why. Is it because people don’t know how to take care of themselves? How to cultivate and protect their self esteem so that they don’t rely on others for it and then punish them when they don’t deliver? Is it because we don’t have the capacity to develop healthy coping mechanisms when things get tough? Is it because we don’t really communicate? Or we’re incapable of moving past pain created by our predecessors? Or is it just human nature? Is it just in our DNA to cheat, lie, overindulge, disregard our own health and wellbeing and that of those around us?

Whatever it is, it’s so much more prevalent than I ever realized. And although it sends me spinning a bit, it also amazes me the way people can rise from the ashes of hardship and heartache to go on and produce grounded, functional families.

It sort of begs the question: Is it all just a crapshoot in the end?


Jane Moneypenny said...

I wonder about this all the time. I grew up the same way and probably not until I was much older did the "drama" start. I worry about when I start my own family if I'll have a great one without major issues or have one that is trouble from the beginning. But you're right, people come out strong and I hope that what I've been through makes me a good wife/mother some day!

Mandy's Kidding said...

I wonder about this too.

I read an article recently that took the stance that it doesn't matter how you're raised, if you're abused or neglected, that your personality is mainly 1) predetermined and 2) influenced by your peers.

Though I recoil from this theory, there is also a sort of relief that comes from it too. Let's say I would have struggled with depression and an eating disorder no matter what my childhood had been like — freeing everyone from any sort of blame is sort of a relief.

Like this was my lot in life, I learned how to cope with it, let's move on.

SoMi's Nilsa said...

So, I come from one of those families mostly free of the cheating, drinking, gambling and other excesses. While I can't speak to it personally, I do think the nature versus nurture debate definitely has a role here. Every human is born with a certain set of traits. But, I think how those tendencies are nurtured through parenting and how that child observes the world around him plays a huge role in whether those tendencies become dominant traits or not. Either way, awareness of your familial tendencies is a huge step in determining whether you're going to beat 'em or join 'em on your own life journey.

Wow, that was awkward said...

What are the scientific longer term ramifications of baring oneself in front of the inlaws?

Anonymous said...

We have had minimal scandal. I think to a certain extent it's largely due to the fact that the more drama that's involved, the crazier things get. My sister has had countless dramas on her in-laws side.

The drama we did have involved a cousin that had moved into town. Perhaps some psychological problems may have been involved. People went their certain ways, and the aggression is still very much so there. It's sad really.

But, this is coming from someone that spent most of her childhood in and out of the hospital. So, if there was drama...I think I missed it. I think to a certain extent...perhaps it's just me...

Drama at the beginning of life professes drama. I know that from experience. I had this huge traumatic experience of going in and out of hospitals, so when I don't have that sort of thing going on, I start to wonder. Or worse, when it's someone else, I panic. Weird I know.

I read this and thought how lucky you were. I think more people need to think like you do, makes people appreciate what they have.

laura said...

well said.

Anonymous said...

I highly suspect it is.

And I suspect the odds are better in Vegas.

Anonymous said...

I think everything may be a crap shoot. All anyone can do is their best and hope that it all works out in the end.

Dingo said...

If there was no drama and no scandal what was the point of family get togethers other than Christmas when you got gifts and Easter when you got candy?

That being said, I think it's a crapshoot. I am perfect but my brother is a fuck up.

Alysha said...

Wow, that is serious following the previous.

I have struggled with this question over the years and in the end decided that we make our own future. All relationships require work and for some reason we think that love and family should be the exception, that if they aren't easy, we should cut it loose and try something easier.

I do think that in some cases that quitting and moving on is the healthiest option, but I think far too often, it is our own laziness and selfishness that has created this new norm, where a family like yours is the exception instead of the norm.

But I think we can all either follow the good examples around us or choose to rise out of the ashes as you so beautifully said and create something new and make healthy families and relationships the norm once again.

I have thoroughly convinced myself of this, otherwise, what is the point?