Nobody’s Family is Going to Change is the title of a children’s novel by Louise Fitzhugh. I reviewed it years ago for the Bay State Banner in Boston. I don’t remember much about the novel, but the truth of the title helped me when I read it and has helped me ever since. I’m writing about this because it has come up a lot in the parenting workshop series I’ve been doing with women at the Suffolk County House of Corrections. Being incarcerated is giving them lots of time for reflection. Naturally, their thoughts turn to family – the family from which they sprang and their children.
The foundations of many families are pocked with small fissures – emotional scars, on-going battles, sibling wars, unspoken secrets, and misunderstandings. Those foundations are also made of love and caring. The thousands of positive repeated actions – meals cooked or provided, transport to and fro, inside jokes, family traditions, mundane but necessary routines, discipline that strengthened rather than destroyed.
You can’t havethe positives without the negatives. We are strong and we get launched into adulthood because of and in spite of the affirmations, challenges, and disappointments of our families.
When we reach adulthood we should come to accept our families for who they are. Most of the time, they did the best they could for us. Our families held our first 18 or 21 years – they don’t have to hold the rest unless we remain hostage to old family patterns and pain.
When I was younger, I learned to gird myself with the words, “Nobody’s family is going to change,” and prepare for my visits home. I found out, that ultimately, I wouldn’t want my family to change. I wouldn’t recognize them if they did. I realized that my late grandmother, “Mother,” was going to say something about my weight even when she piled her delicious food on my plate and encouraged me to have more. I realized that a cousin would say something that I violently disagreed with but that it was okay. I didn’t need to correct them or even always share my true opinion with them. I opted for peace and acceptance.
When I was away from my family, I missed them terribly. When I was home with my family, I recognized and remembered their “faults” and why I had chosen to make my life in a distant city. With the passing of years, they’ve grown and I’ve grown even while we are essentially who we always were. As I’ve accepted myself, I’ve found it easier to accept them as they are. Who am I to think I should try to change someone or have the right to impose my world view and style?
Now, when I go home, I go to love them up and reap the love in return. I look forward to the matching gifts at Christmas. (In my family, if my Mom or aunt finds a bargain – everyone of us – in all our different sizes – will get it. This is the way they/we love.) I wish Mother was still here to ply me with food and chastise me about my size, which she said was going to keep me from getting a “new” husband. (It didn’t after all.)
“The only thing worse than having a family is not having one!” (Robin Williams’ character Mork said this on the old Mork & Mindy show.) Nobody’s family is going to change and that includes me and you!
Thank you, family, for your oh so human love.