“Family is not an important thing. It’s everything.” – Michael J. Fox.
I couldn’t have said it better myself. Thanks, Michael.
I just returned from a delightful weekend away with my Dad’s side of the family. It has left me tired, sleepy, and a little frayed. (Well, mostly that was the coffee and the late-night drive home, but anyway…)
It has also left me enormously grateful for my family – both my own wife & two kids, and also my parents, brothers and sisters, and their partners and children.
While we were visiting, my wife got a call from her Dad saying that one of her Uncles had passed away.
He’d been sick for a long time, so there is a certain compassion and relief in him finally reaching the end. But even so, it’s still sad news. There’s a funeral to plan, arrangements to make, and relatives to notify.
On the phone, Bel’s Dad confided that he was anxious about seeing one of his other brothers at the funeral – one he hadn’t spoken to for over 20 years.
It got me thinking about families, and how we relate to those we are (supposedly) closest to.
My own father hasn’t spoken to one of his brothers for probably over 20 years, and cut off contact with a different brother maybe 10 years ago. My eldest sister has no contact with my father, and only patchy contact with my other siblings. Bel’s sister hasn’t been in touch with her Dad since her 9yo daughter was born.
And so on. I think you get the idea, and worse, I’m sure you have at least one or two examples of similar behaviour in your own family.
Here’s the thing. (Disclaimer alert.)
I’m not the font of all wisdom, nor do I intend to get high and mighty declaring those who have a falling out to be wrong and deplorable. Everyone makes their own choices, and my wife & I have made very different ones to most people.
The thing I find disturbing is how often people forget the cost of their choices.
Our families ARE everything.
They’re the ones who are around us when we’re born, there when we grow up, and typically by our bedside when we die. They’re the ones with whom we share a common, unbreakable bond, and who love and support us simply because of that bond.
An example of this is the unique relationship I share with my brothers and sisters. We can all be sitting around the dinner table calmly chatting, and then one of us will start a joke, or make a cheeky comment. Within seconds, my siblings and I will all run a mile on that one line, laughing hysterically and sharing in-joke after in-joke on rapid-fire delivery.
My poor wife and parents simply don’t get it, but I absolutely treasure those moments. It’s one of those things I share with my siblings only because we’re siblings – we grew up together, we know each other intimately, and we all have a genetic pre-disposition to enjoying ridiculous humour.
Belinda & I made a pact a long time ago with ourselves and each other, that we would be the Switzerland of our extended family unit. Neutral territory. Not allied or enemies with anyone. Impartial, as much as possible.
Because to us, it is more important to have a relationship with our entire family – for us, and for our children – than it is to be right about some petty issue, and lose that relationship.
It means that we sometimes swallow our pride, and let difficult behaviour go unchecked. We have learned to let some comments and situations just slide through to the goal-keeper.
Is it easy? No, not always.
Is it simple? Yes.
Is it worth it? ABSOLUTELY.
We don’t have the wasted energy of holding grudges. We don’t have to tiptoe around who is talking to whom, and who is fighting with whom, because it’s not us. If it ever comes up, it’s all “someone else’s stuff”, and we don’t buy into it.
And now over to you. Today, I ask you to have a think about your own family. Are you feuding with anyone? Are you “not talking” to someone in your family?
What is the cost of that behaviour? What are you missing out on? What are they missing out on?
I highly recommend making peace with everyone, including yourself.
Making peace is very simple. It’s not always easy, and requires courage. But it is very simple.
It starts with letting go of whatever caused the fight in the first place, in your own mind and heart.
Then, apologise. Don’t apologise conditionally, just apologise. Fully and unreservedly. You’ll be amazed at how often being the initiator of an apology throws people off guard, and actually helps them take responsibility for their actions too.
Lastly, consciously and verbally make a new commitment to starting again and focussing on a new future – without bringing up the past.
Don’t let silly arguments go on any longer. We never know what is around the corner, and we never get a second chance once death catches us or our loved ones.
I wish you luck, and courage, and gratitude.
PS. If you don’t have a feud of any sort in your family, fabulous! May that long continue. :)