I have been contemplating this idea of family. What is their function? How should we handle them? What are they responsible for?
You see, we often have a misconstrued view of family–that we need to remain loyal to our family, no matter what, because they raised us, give us money, and provide for us. Is it OUR duty to acknowledge and dote on their efforts, or is it their ethical duty to take care of us the best they can, because they made the decision to bring us into the world? Is it our gratitude we must express, or is it merely their responsibility?
I believe that family does not have to include just those we share blood lines with, but also those we hold close to us. If I were to get married, a small fraction of my guest list would include my grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. And, the remainder of the guest list would contain my dance friends, my coaches, my co-workers, my mentors, and people I have met along the way who influenced me to become who I am today.
I think, too often, we judge people based on their families. We often find ourselves saying, “That girl’s family is just white trash”, or “Those kids come from dysfunctional parents”, or “That family can barely afford to buy new clothes” but I think we need to shift our thinking from what kind of family does someone come from towards what are those people doing with the family they are given. Someone coming from a poor upbringing that does something significant with their lives I think means way more than someone who comes from an average household and does something semi-significant.
I do believe that much of our schemas, understandings of the world, perceptions, attitudes, judgements, and behaviors do stem from our upbringing. However, I also believe that those things can be changed. The brain is a wonderful muscle that, especially in your early 20’s, is pliable and adaptable. So, if you are willing to put in the cognitive efforts, I believe you can overcome any kind of programming that occurred throughout your early years.
This is something I constantly strive to do myself, all by constantly reflecting on my own life, attending yoga classes, going to life coaching classes, carefully observing the world around me, and exposing myself to a diverse array of ideas before making a decision. At my job, we recently took a personality/behavior profile. As I thought about my own results, I thought to myself that this was NOT the profile I would have received four years ago, when I started college. When I first started (and please remember that I went to CU Boulder), I would define myself as very liberal. In fact, I even registered as a liberal the first time I voted. Now that I am older (and wiser), I find myself swaying a little more to the right on some of these issues. It is strange how just a few years and experiences can impact your perceptions so drastically.
I think the people you keep close to you that are not your family are almost more telling of who you are as a person. In our culture, we put so much emphasis on ‘family values’. For example, we force ourselves to spend Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, birthdays, Fourth of July, Memorial Day, Labor Day, etc. with our families. How many of us truly LOVE spending that time with our families, and how many of us does that time end up so stressful that you stop eating/lose weight/get in fights with other people, everyone ends up in a big fight, you see someone you don’t want to and get irritated that you have to be nice to them, or you end up drinking way more than you ever wanted just to deal with them? How many people actually like and have the best relationship ever with their in laws? From what I have observed, this is very slim to none because your parents, since they raised you themselves, will never find anyone 100% acceptable for you, unless of course you end up marrying an exact replica of your mother.
I think when we grow up, go to college, start our first jobs, and find our first (and second, and third) loves, we are exposed to more diverse ideas and we start looking critically at our upbringing and our relationships with our family. We learn that, perhaps our parents are not always right, perhaps our parents are judgmental, perhaps we do not agree with the views of our parents. For some, it is a very difficult concept to grasp, because we have been so close for so long and feel like we owe allegiance to our family. But perhaps sometimes, we need to stand up for ourselves, our own values, and our own destinies.
In my opinion, those friends you keep close to you say more about who you are as a person than your family ever will, because your friends are the ones you choose to have around you; they are a direct reflection of you. Are your friends loyal to you? Are they ready to come pick you up at the drop of a hat when you get stranded at a concert? Do your friends offer your support and advice? Are they able to let loose with you and dance the night away, and then not leave you when they find a cute guy? Do your friends weigh you down? Are they always ditching you, never following through, never inviting you to things? It is the phrase “birds like a feather flock together”, so we keep those close to us that reflect our own personalities, desires, and hopes.
We cannot help who we are born into; we can only help how we handle it and how we choose to move forward in our lives.