Head Coach: Family is family and that's a good thing
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Every holiday season, I am reminded of the last time my family of origin spent a Thanksgiving with all of us together in one place. And there is a reason it was the last time. I'm the baby of my family with two older sisters. My parents raised very responsible children. We each grew up, left home in timely fashion, pursued an education, found careers, married and grew our own families. We also scattered to all parts of the country. Once that happened, we never had holidays anymore with all of us together. It just wasn't practical. Until, of course, my father had this bright idea.
"I wish," he said, "We could spend just one more holiday with all of us together. Like the old days."
"Why wish?" I responded. "Let's do it!"
I had no idea my dad would actually take me up on it. But he did. Next thing I knew, we all received an invitation to spend Thanksgiving together at Mom and Dad's. It sounded like a great idea, so we all accepted and showed up for a fun-filled Thanksgiving weekend with all of our families together.
Isn't it interesting how a family can grow apart for many years, yet come together at some point and behave as though we never left? As soon as we got under the same roof, we seemed to pick up right where we left off when I was 15. Each of us assumed our roles and performed them with precision. Mom couldn't relax because she was too busy trying to make sure everyone was comfortable and had enough to eat.
Dad stayed off to himself except for those occasional authority guerilla raids to criticize whatever was going on at the time. Mom would apologize. My middle sister blamed Dad's displeasure on me and my oldest sister. My oldest sister went right to work trying to convince her that she was being unfair. Then the spouses would get into the mix and trigger the proverbial "don't talk about my family like that" response. I, of course, stayed calm and exercised remarkable maturity and restraint.
Eventually, it all came to a head around the dinner table. Halfway through the meal, my oldest sister broke into tears. Mom offered her more food in hopes it would calm her down. My other sister pontificated about how silly it was to get so upset. Dad complained that we were all ruining his dinner. The spouses elected to stay out of this one. My oldest sister ran out of the room crying. Mom got her feelings hurt because no one wanted to eat anymore. And I, of course, remained calm with remarkable maturity and restraint.
Later that evening, I noticed my father standing outside by himself. Mom was inside offering food to anyone who would take it. I joined Dad in the front yard. We stood side by side, quietly. Finally, Dad broke the silence.
"You know, son, for a long time I have wished we could spend one more holiday with all us together." After another long silence, he continued. "Well I got my wish so I don't think we need to try this ever again. Never!"
I didn't argue. That was our last holiday as a family.
I have since learned that it was foolish for any of us to think it would be any different whenever we got together. Family is family. We play out these roles. Every time. And we are all quite good at it. But, it was more foolish and even sad that we decided because of this not to get together anymore. Family is family. Instead of trying to make it any different than it is maybe we should just love our family anyway. Mom and Dad, in spite of themselves, managed to teach us unconditional love. When we got together again, we remembered our roles perfectly, but forgot about the unconditional love and walked away.
If I had it to do over again, when it all fell apart, I wouldn't remain calm with remarkable maturity and restraint. I think I would break out into boisterous laughter and exclaim, "Isn't it great to be together again? Just like the old days. I love you guys!" And I wouldn't walk away.
Happy Holidays everyone. Embrace your families.
Lane Johnson, M.Div., LPC, is a licensed counselor. He welcomes your comments. You can contact him by e-mail at lane@StrategicConnectionGroup.com.