We all have family but not all of us are lucky enough to have healthy relationships with our family members. It’s a tricky thing because we don’t get to choose our family so therefore it isn’t uncommon for people to find their family members unbearable. Those closest to us are often the ones that irritate us the most. It’s much easier to see their flaws. You also have a lifetime together and therefore have a lifetime’s memories, both good and bad. But if you’re one of the lucky ones then you will know that the love that you receive from family is by far the warmest, fuzziest feeling in the world. This is why.
From the minute you are born, you are surrounded by family. Family is your first community. Family, whether genetically related to you or not, is the glue that connects you to the world. We first learn about ourselves and the world through our families. They are therefore our first teachers and our earliest markers of identity. We have family, therefore we are. And this sense of ourselves gets reinforced over the years through interactions with our families where memories are created and then collectively recollected. Very few people will know others for their entire lifetime, but family is there from the beginning, mirroring our selves back to us, consistently and honestly.
Part of what keeps the rhythm of family interactions, is the participation in shared traditions. Ritual gives life a sense of meaning. And tradition tends to shape so many family interactions. Some families follow certain cultural or religious practices but even the most secular families still meet for birthdays or mother’s day, for example. And within these practices, these traditions, a sense of purpose and meaning is established. I think these rhythmical articulations are a very important way of establishing and maintaining family relationships.
As with any relationship, the bond that gets formed over time has as much to do with trust as it does to any action performed. Why should we trust our family over others? I don’t know. But I think that if we have repeated experiences of love and kindness from anyone, we will slowly develop a trust with them. Family is no different. Family relationships get built over years and so long as they don’t cause us too much harm, we are going to feel like we can come to rely on these people to be there. What’s more, is even if we do learn of some unsavoury aspects of our family members’ personalities, we can still learn how to navigate our interactions with them so that we make the most of their good parts. Sometimes having a clear understanding of another person’s faults or shortcomings actually aids a feeling of connection and trust. It’s a kind of “better the devil you know” thing.
- The Ugly Truth
Our family get us at our worst. They clean our poopy diapers, they blow our snotty noses, and they tolerate our tantrums. Later on, they endure our teenage angst and survive our rebellions. And just when they feel they can finally start enjoying us again we leave them to go out on our own, leaving them to tolerate enormous feelings of loss that come with an empty nest. It isn’t easy to be the one that gets those 3am phone calls or to be the one that picks up the pieces of another broken heart. We really do show our families the good, the bad, and the ugly. We come to them broken and bruised, looking worse for wear, and do not think twice about whether they will accept us or help kiss it better. I believe that it is this very ugliness that creates the strongest bond. There is nothing more beautiful or more meaningful than knowing that someone sees you, sees the whole you, and still chooses to love you and to be there for you. It is to have the very truth of you seen, acknowledged and accepted, unconditionally.
- Unconditional Love
So what is unconditional love and why do families know the secret recipe? I Think it has to do with the previous 4 points. We learn to love via our families. We learn how to be loved via our families. We have our first experiences of ourselves and we come to feel accepted through these relationships. Family is the place where you know you can show up without make-up on. It’s where you can bring the full range of your emotions. It’s where you can misbehave. It’s where you can be imperfect. It’s where you can screw up. It’s where you can be a pain in the ass. You can be you, the whole truth of you, and you will always feel loved and accepted. But unconditional love is not about permissiveness or about getting your own way all the time. Sometimes our families will disagree with us. They will get in our way. They will try and direct us. The times when your family feels confining will be the times when this love is tested. But if there is a real sense of respect then these moments of tension will be overcome. Unconditional love is not perfect love. It’s not about agreeing with every last inch of a person. It’s about loving and being loved for who you are, warts and all.