What is it that allows some family relationships to flourish where others fail? Assuming no seriously destructive dysfunctional behaviour, for me one of the answers has to be acceptance, both across and within the generations – the acceptance of change as the only real constant in life, and the acceptance of people as who they are rather than who we may want them to be.
All too often the older generation in families demand that relationship dynamics stay fixed in a time that best suits them, where they as parents always know what’s best for everyone, and where their children always behave in a manner appropriate to their parental expectation, even when those children have themselves become parents and even grandparents. But sadly not allowing for the inevitability of changing dynamics only creates a stagnant, stale, suffocating atmosphere that is conducive neither to familial growth nor the creation of healthy relationships, effectively preventing individuals from flourishing and potentially becoming the best they can be.
Parents need to get to know (and accept) their adult children as independent people with differing views and opinions and experiences to their own – and to understand that difference is not necessarily a sign of being disobedient or difficult, sometimes difference is just difference. And conversely adult children need to get to know (and accept) their parents primarily as people too, looking beyond the labels of mum and dad to the person behind. Who were they before they were mum and dad? What were their hopes and fears? How have those hopes and fears impacted on the way they may have parented you? We all need to remember that none of us is perfect, we are all flawed human beings in our own way, and that’s OK.
Acceptance of what is rather than what was, or what might have been, is never easy. My mum may have wanted six boys, and I may have wanted a mum who understood my debilitating depression, but we have what we have; a daughter with years of being labelled ‘the difficult one’ and a mum who wonders why we don’t have a closer bond. My children may have wanted a normal nuclear family with a full-time home-making mum (and to be fair, I would have liked that for them too), but what they got (after a very acrimonious divorce between me and their dad) was a deeply depressed single mum who struggled hard to keep a roof over their heads and provide for them, leaving them feeling that they always came second in my life to my job, that I never put them first.
Multiple generations all living at once creates an ever-moving family dynamic – my maternal grandmother was still alive when my first grandchild was born, and I remember puzzling over how to be a good granddaughter, daughter, mother and grandmother all at the same time while still trying to be true to me underneath it all. Even now we ‘only’ have four generations in our family we still struggle with the inevitable tensions that go with three generations of independent adults all living their separate lives in their own unique ways, while still remaining as one part of an extended family unit. It is not now, and never should be, up to one generation to tell others how to live their lives, regardless of seniority.
We have no option as an extended family of four generations but to adapt en masse as individual circumstances change within our ranks, like it or not. Some generations and some family members resist more than others, but ultimately such resistance is futile if our ongoing familial relationships are to thrive and survive. Acceptance is never easy, but neither is it hopeless. It is what it is, fluid and flexible, and hopefully that fluidity is what will allow us all to flourish as a family into the future… ❤