Family Reunions ($)
Don't waste an opportunity by insisting your family reunion be a happy affair.
“Family are like underpants. Some crawl up your ass, some get a little sideways, and some are just plain nasty. And some actually cover your ass when you need them.”
No person escapes childhood unscathed. Either you grow up with parents who don’t know how to parent or you’re brought up by someone who does know how to be a parent and you struggle with an attachment disorder.
We are cabinets of misfiled information. Family reunions are disagreements of intractable misunderstandings. Most people keep their eyes to the sky and count the days.
Family reunions are an opportunity for you to dump the old files, discard memories, and change yourself. They are some of your last opportunities to make clarity.
“A dysfunctional family is any family with more than one person in it.”
— Mary Karr, writer
Each of our personalities are built as towers buttressed by defensiveness. Our childhood is the tower’s foundation and the piers are spaced too close together. Our personalities gain height with time to become unstable, as they’re too narrow on the bottom.
The tower is not pretty to look at, it’s sort of a bramble. It’s full of sharp corners and few flowers. However humble it might be, we don’t want anyone to touch it. We look for support. Much of our lives beyond middle age focuses on protecting the structure of our personality, terrified that it will fall over.
Think about your grandparents and think about your parents. How well informed are they, how flexible are they? Think about yourself and the children you may have. Imagine grandchildren. See in your mind’s eye how increasingly uninformed each generation becomes of the previous generation, and how resistant each generation is to change. This is natural and it starts happening in childhood.
You never knew your parents as children. You could never participate in the formation of their personalities. Your personality formed in the context of your parents' static attitudes, and to this day, if you’re lucky, your parents will not understand the struggles in which you’re engaged.
Real intimacy is extremely rare. Real intimacy is honest, emotional, and vulnerable. It’s unstable by nature because real intimacy is a kind of joint navigation through unpredictable waters. When you allow real intimacy you admit new forces and your life becomes flexible and responsive.
Quitting the Contest
If you want to be allowed into the personalities of your parents or grandparents, then you’ll have to respect their oddly distorted structure. If you are extremely deferential, more than usual, you’ll find your parents and grandparents will open up.
It is a rare elder who will actually join you on the battlefield of the present. These rare people are called “wise” and chances are you’ll only meet a handful in your lifetime.
Don’t expect your parents to be wise. Don’t presume they have the insight to realize that you have anything to offer them. They’re too busy patching up the wobbling towers of their personalities. The most you can do is ask for entry and let them give you the tour.
Most of us spend our lives trying to get our parents to understand, or trying to understand exactly how our parents failed us. We do this because we don’t appreciate how static and vulnerable our parents are. If you have grown older yourself, consider how static and vulnerable you have become, some of us more than others. Only a few of us are as flexible and untethered as when we were young.
Think back to when you were eight years old. At that time, you had a sense of self but little social personality. Who you were would not change much, but how you presented yourself was completely undetermined. Once you get behind social presentation, each generation’s people have much in common. The conflicts lie in our social personalities.