Family – we are born into it. The Oxford Dictionary of Current English describes family as:
“set of parents and children or of relatives; person’s children; members of household; all descendants of one lineage; group of kindred peoples.”
We do not have the option of choosing who our family members will be – at least not very often. We have to accept what we are born into this world with. The vast majority of families consist of two parents – usually a mother and a father, and a child or children. A family consists of immediate relatives – mother, father, son, daughter, husband, wife – and also of extended relatives – grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, as well as in-laws.
The definition of family, or rather, the structure of family has taken a drastic turn over the last decade or two. Family used to mean one man and one woman, legally married who have children through that marriage. However, with equal rights being shouted everywhere, family can now mean two lesbian women living together with children, two gay men living together with children, a single parent family, other people’s children being adopted into a family, as well as the traditional nuclear family. It may also consist of siblings living together once they are old enough to legally be on their own. The definition and the structure of the family has changed.
But what about orphanages and senior’s homes? Are they not a family as well? They may not be related by blood, but they all live under the same roof, follow the same rules and have the same legal guardians or caretakers. To me, that qualifies as a family as well.
Another form of family are those of churches. Again, members are not related by blood, but are considered the family of God. They are brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ. Each member has been adopted by God, is what they believe, and therefore, are a family.
Then there are those who for safety reasons have had to leave home and live on their own. They are a family of one. But they can find roommates who soon become their family. Friends who are so close that they know you better than yourself are considered like sisters and brothers. We can confide in them, trust them with every detail of our lives and go to them when we need something. These too are considered family.
So there are many forms of family. Myself, I prefer the traditional nuclear family, but that is not to say I am against the others. In fact, I am part of some of the ones listed above. And sometimes I get along better with them than I do my family of origin. However, I am just old fashioned due to the way I was raised and due to my belief system and believe that, for me at least, a family would consist of a mother, father and children all living under one roof.
Yet despite the many structures of family and regardless of who makes up the family, it is my opinion that we take each other for granted. We do not say please and thank you enough. The phrase, “I love you” has become a sort of dinosaur. Rarely do children appreciate the work their parents do to provide them with the necessities of life let alone all the extras like TV’s for their bedrooms, Playstations, musical instruments and so on. Family night has become extinct. You know, where you made popcorn and sat and watched a movie or played a game together? Remember those days? I do, and I miss them. Other things have replaced family time. Nights out with the boys or the girls, meetings at work, church functions and so on. Too many things have interfered with quality family time. And it has cost us a great deal. There is more fighting going on in families. More children leave home before they are ready or of legal age. Husbands and wives yell at each other instead of talking and sharing with each other. It is a sad fact that family as I knew it growing up is fading away very quickly.
In fact, there is more fighting amongst family members now than I have seen in my lifetime so far. I see kids mouthing off at their parents when they are asked to do something. I hear husbands and wives degrading each other in the presence of other people. I hear adult children talk downright nasty of their older parents. Blame has become so popular that counselling is one of the largest growing occupations. Kids today know no values or morals, or are very low on them. When was the last time a teenager or young person stood up on the bus so you or an elderly person could have a seat? When was the last time a man stood up to let a lady sit down? When was the last time you heard somebody say thank you for doing something nice? If you’ve heard or seen it lately, consider yourself blessed. It’s a rarity today.
Can we not take a step back in time to where members of a household appreciated one another and valued each other? A time when older siblings looked out for younger siblings instead of tormenting them? Where parents sat down with their kids and taught them values and morals, rights and wrongs? Whatever happened to helping one another, loving one another, encouraging one another, protecting one another and so on? Have we lost all humanity? Have we no concern for the ones who raised us?
Family has taken a beating over the years. Children know their rights and they know just enough to be dangerous. They know they can’t be hit or spanked as a form of discipline. They know that if their parents lay one finger on them that their parents can be charged with child abuse. I don’t know. I was spanked as a kid and it didn’t kill me. Moreso, it did me a world of good. It kept me from hurting myself. We were given the rule of 3 at our house. The first time we did something wrong, we were sat down and told why it was wrong and how it would hurt us in the long run. The second time we did it, we were warned about punishment. If we did it the third time, we got spanked. Did it kill me??? OF COURSE NOT!!! And our friends used to come to my brother and I and tell us how lucky we were that our parents cared enough to set limits and discipline us. In fact, almost every kid we played with, at one time or another, asked if they could come and live with our family. Why? Because their parents didn’t care where they went, who they were with, what they did, etc. They wanted a structured home but didn’t have it. I was one of the fortunate ones who had parents who cared enough to teach us limits.
I honestly look back on those times and think of how hard it must have been for my parents to do that – to spank us. My mom tells me that after she spanked one of us, she used to go to her room and cry. It was just as hard on her as it was on us. Not in the same place as the joke goes, but I do think it was harder on them, because they knew they were hurting us, but they also knew they were not harming us, but protecting us. They did it because they did not want to see us get hurt. Yes, the spanking hurt, but it hurt less to learn not to do this or that so we would survive. We learned not to run out into the road after the ball because we could be hit by a car or run over. We learned not to talk to strangers so we wouldn’t be taken advantage of. We learned not to smoke, take drugs or drink because it ends in feeling ill. We learned valuable lessons through spankings. Sure, we joke about them today, but there is not a time I was spanked that I didn’t learn a valuable lesson and learn that my safety was at stake and I wasn’t aware of it like my parents. They protected me by disciplining me.
Family is a treasure. I have heard it said that children are the future, parents are the present and grandparents are the past. To lose a grandparent is hard, but they have usually lived a full life and are ready to go. It doesn’t make it any easier, but it does console us to know that they had a long and likely full life. After all, here you are reading this, so they have left a legacy. To lose a parent is harder. They are still involved in our lives for the most part. They are the grandparents of our children and the people we still turn to for advice. Only now the advice is wanted, not shunned. And now we are friends with our parents, not minors. And to lose a child is to lose the future. It is the hardest loss. A child is altogether the flesh of the mother and the father and to lose a piece of yourself in a manner of losing a child, whether young or older, is to lose the future. They have not lived long enough to enjoy let alone learn what life is all about and therefore the pain is the strongest when a child dies.
Not all families are happy families. Some are very destructive and don’t seem like much of a treasure. Those families that are destructive are missing out on a huge blessing. If they could only see the value of each member. If only the destructive party could get past the hurt they are hiding, they could see what an honour they have being part of such a wonderful family. But that every family is a happy family is a fallacy. Not everyone treasures or will treasure the memories of their family and that is a shameful thing.
Each person in a family contributes in some way to the family dynamics and how it goes about living. Dad is usually the bread winner, although not always. Mom is usually the caretaker. However, nanny’s are becoming very popular as well as Daycare Centres because to keep a family going nowadays, sometimes takes two incomes – one from dad and one from mom. Kids usually have the roles of going to school, doing chores at home and being kids by playing with friends. And whether we know it or not, girls are watching their mothers like hawks. Mothers are the models for which our girls will learn. And fathers are the guide to which the daughter will look for in a man when she is old enough. The same is true for the son. He watches dad and learns how to act from him, but he watches mom and sees the qualities he wants in her. Both parents play a vital, yet different, role in their children’s lives. Parents must be wise when children are watching. It is by example more than by word of mouth that children learn. What they see they become.
In my own life, I’ve had my problems with family. They’ve had their problems with me. We are all going to have problems in families, but we can overcome them if we only stand together. Is my family perfect? Not at all!!! We still have our problems, disagreements and so on. But for the most part, we enjoy each others’ company. We value the time we have together because we know we don’t live forever. And the older we grow, the more we realize this truth. Parents suddenly become our friends. In my own life, my mom is my greatest friend, yet at times my worst enemy. We are now equals because I am a grown adult woman just like she is. However, I am still her daughter and sometimes that old mothering role kicks in and she wants to take care of me like I was still a child. That’s when I kick my heels up and the sparks fly. But we always get over it and become best friends again. I cherish both my mother and my father.
Families are timeless treasures, and if more people could see the hard work that goes into being a family, and the little time they actually have with each other, they might think twice before they put them down, holler at them, degrade them in front of other people and curse the day they were born.
We can choose our friends, but we cannot choose our families, so why not enjoy what we have, do the best we can to cherish each moment and lift each other up rather than tear each other down? Despite the structure of the family, it remains true that families are something to be valued and yet are quickly becoming extinct. Extinct because we all want our own way regardless of how it affects the ones we love. The next time you are with a family member, try and think of something nice to say to them or do for them. You’ll be surprised at just how far a little kindness can go in families too.