Define a "normal, functional family." Do they exist? How to start one?
Could someone please explain to me what a normal, functional family is like? Do these really exist, or is there always some sort of dysfunction in family life? Anyone have any tips on how to have a good start? I am still young, 23yo female, have a serious significant other than I can see myself with from now on, but don't want to jinx myself just yet...but I can only hope that one day I will be in a happy marriage wishing to start a family of my own.
My family has a lot of problems -- always arguing, fighting, drama, etc. I have plenty of family members that have been/are in serious trouble legally that really just upsets me. I cannot really be "proud" of the family I come from, but I have been successful myself. I love my mom and my dad, and also my grandmother but I really have no desire to associate myself with the rest of my family. I relocated 1,400 miles just away to get away from the drama. I don't feel like I "ran away from problems," I just wanted a fresh start and to be able to live my life peacefully. I couldn't take it anymore. Plus, I would consider myself successful and thriving, and I felt like my family was impeding my ability to actually live my life happily. Plus, I am from the very conservative Bible-beating family which I am unreligious and very liberal, and I feel like I could never be honest and my own person.
I recently visited a good friend of mine for Thanksgiving, and I was just totally amazed how civilized her family is compared to mine. They are very loving and I was just in awe that 15 of us could sit at one dinner table and have a "normal" conversation without any arguments, with everyone's opinions equally respected. I understand that no one is perfect, and there's always flaws in some sort. I just want to live in normality, and am curious if something like this actually exists or if I am being unrealistic.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body / love what it loves
"Wild Geese" by Mary Oliver
My husband's family is like that. Everyone gets along and truly looks forward to spending time together. They do Sunday dinner almost every week, so I think that's one of the biggest things that keeps them close and maintaining relationships. Also, his parents have a great relationship with one another, so that sets the tone for everyone else. Definitely something to strive for!
Many times, I have seen family "patterns" crop out and become the default with people completely unaware that it is happening. Unfortunately, we all have a strong tendency to react in ways that were modelled for us by our parents and siblings when we were too young to make our own value judgements. This can run to verbal abuse, passive aggression, histrionics, the gamut.
The best way to keep that from happening is to make sure your SO knows your background--and have an agreement with him that should he EVER see you starting to "default" to those old, unpleasant family patterns, he's to inform you (compassionately!) immediately.
Of course, this "deal" should be reciprocal and cut both ways.
Kudos to you for thinking this through in advance--most people never know why when life hits them like a train wreck.
All families have problems, but functional families deal with them (most of the time, anyway). I think my family is pretty functional, but I certainly wouldn't say we don't have our issues. We do look forward to seeing each other, and I live two hours from my brother and his family, and my parents, and wish we were closer.
My husband's family is sort of dysfunctional. Maybe you could call them functionally dysfunctional. They still try, and there usually isn't major drama, but always the undercurrent of problems.
The main difference between them and my family is that they don't communicate. Ever. I call my parents every Sunday morning and have since I graduated college (I am in my mid-40s). We talk - by phone, by email, on Faceboook. I know what they are doing and they know what we are doing. We talk about our problems and our good things, about politics and education and movies, etc.
I have no idea what my husband's family is up to, and he avoids talking to them. Holidays are always up in the air until the last minute because he (or they) won't communicate. I don't get it. Every time we get together it is uncomfortable.
What caevent said. That is my family for the most part (we don't do every Sunday). Three sisters, no brothers, and both parents still alive and married 50+ years. We get along great, and love to spend time together and with our parents. Holidays are the best. We had 15 this Thanksgiving including family-less friends & kids.
When I moved 2000 miles post divorce, jobless & homeless, I had offers of a room to sleep in and unlimited support from both sisters and parents. I left my kids in Michigan, and hope that someday they will move here. Even though my two kids do not spend much time together, when they do they are civil and respectful towards each other despite being so very different. I hope they have a relationship in the future like I do with my sisters. I'm not sure if brother/sister can be the same thing, though.
We lived by three mottos taught from the cradle: 1. "if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all" 2."treat others as you would like to be treated" and 3."family comes first - friends may come and go, but family will always be there". Learned it, now living it.
My family has had some dysfunction over the years, but in general, I think we're a pretty happy lot. When my grandparents were alive, we had brunch at their house every Sunday after church, holidays were spent together, etc. My parents just celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.
Now that both grandma and grandpa have passed, the large family gatherings don't really happen anymore, but my parents and my siblings make it a point to get together as much as we can although we live in 3 different states and are 5-9 hours away from one another. We truly enjoy one another's company which is a great thing. When it's time to go back home, we really are sad.
My husband, on the other hand, has the MOST dysfunctional family I've seen. He rarely speaks to his mother, they both harbor horrible feelings towards one another, his mother goes years between speaking to her brothers or sisters. We once drove 14 hours through a horrible snow storm to spend Christmas with her (with was before he was my husband) and within an hour of getting there, we were in the car driving back home. It was an AWFUL holiday. Things haven't gotten much better on that homefront since.
I think my husband feels odd around my family because we like one another so much. He's not quite sure how to act.
I admire your bravery to move 1400 miles from your family to start a new, better life. I love my family, despite some minor flaws, and would never have the guts to take off on my own so far from them even though, at this point, I could most likely find better job opportunities somewhere else. My dream is to live for at least one year in Alaska: I'm a southern girl who loves cold weather and dream of the chance to live a real winter complete with winter sports. But at this point I couldn't A) leave behind the best horse I've ever owned, even for just a year B) leave my sister to care for my 80yo father by herself.
I think you have done the right thing and I wish you all the best in your new life. Hopefully you'll start your own family with new, better traditions and relationships.
A topic dear to my heart, as my family's major dysfunctionalities were oh so obvious this past Thanksgiving. I think the main problem is what one poster above pointed out - we don't communicate. Unless there is really something that is dramatic news, or someone is in desperate need, we never talk, email or anything. My mom was passive agressive growing up, my dad was very loud & controlling. My dad, after 3 cardiac events & Parkinson's disease taking control, has become strangely withdrawn & quiet. My mom has to be going through hell watching her spouse of 50 years disintegrate like this, but she won't talk to me about it.
My sister, as I pointed out on another post, seems to be abandoning her daughters to her violent ex husband. She was at this Thanksgiving this year, I made a point of inviting the one neice that happened to be in the area to dinner - everyone else was like, oh, her? Oh sure I guess if you want to bring her... WTF??? I just can't grasp it. We all say we love each other, do come through in times of major emergency, but all the rest of the time seem to be just coasting along, not related at all...
I'm naturally shy & introverted so it's hard to try to reverse this trend, but I'm going to try... I've already decided next years thankgiving is at my house, and I'm inviting everyone & pressing them to come! Whether they currently "get along" or not!
And I'm going to try to corner my mom & ask her to tell me what it's like living with dad slowly regressing like this. It's depressing for me on visits, it must be hard on her living with it day to day. So I'm going to try to patch some things up, but we are definitely NOT functional!
On the other side, my college roomie & a pen pal I corresponded with from teen years, seem to have got it just right. And in both cases, I think their open, free communication is the key. You can just feel the love & support & mutual understanding flowing around them when you are around them.
So if I were starting a family I'd do everything I could to keep that communication open. Oh, and read up on current parenting advice. There is a lot out there, and I don't know why most parents I know don't bother to read any of it. It's like the most important job they've ever undertaken, and they just decide to "wing it"? I know I'd have to bring in outside therapy at some point if I tried to have a family, as my natural abilities are stunted by my own upbringing. But I would try like the dickens to keep everyone talking to everyone.
You probably got a great example of things not to do when trying to live in harmony with family. I commend you for asking the question, I see so many that have had rotton relationships with their parents deciding to go at life alone.
As much as I understand this thought process, I can't help but feel sorry for them. Getting along with family members is not always easy, everyone has an opinion, but with patience and alot of tongue biting it can be done. You have to overlook the small stuff, because it's really the big picture that matters anyway.
Raising kids to get along with others is really not that hard, they learn by example. It's a give and take world for sure. My family gets along great, we have one semi nutso uncle that could stir up the stuff if we allowed him to but everyone has just learned to pacify him a bit and go on with our gathering. We do have a pretty drama free family, not so much on hubby's side, but it is what it is, makes him appreciate my family that much more!
All families have problems, but functional families deal with them (most of the time, anyway).
Definitely this. My family I'd say is very functional, my friends have even remarked on occasion about how "perfect" it is.
But a few years ago my mother seriously considered divorce. Not due to fighting/abuse, or cheating or anything like that, she was just fed up with some behaviors from my dad that some people might think were minor, but she didn't. They had a number of serious, non-shouty discussions, my dad probably went off and vented to his buddies, and then he mended his ways and it's been fine since.
So it's not about not having issues, but about how the people in the relationship handle the issues. My parents have always been able to discuss things. It doesn't mean they never fight, they're human and have the occasional blow-up, but they will discuss the issue calmly after the blow-up instead of letting it simmer and blow up again. And they've always presented a unified front to us kids, so we couldn't "divide and conquer". I think that's important, not only about kids but about any major decisions; I have seen marriages where one partner will constantly undermine the other.
Mange your money well, and together and agree on child rearing practices.
Yes. And get a dog first.
My spouse and I can't even see eye to eye on how to handle the dogs, it gives me a little insight into how hard it would be to raise children with a partner who had different child raising philosophies.
I take care of the dogs, the food, training, exercise etc. She can not be consistent, will tell one of the dogs to "get off" when the dog is climbing on her when watching the TV...she will just sit there and say "off" ten times in a row, mindlessly, without actually making the dog get off her and does not understand how she is training the dogs to ignore her. I tell them once to do something and if they do not do it I am prepared to get up and compel them to listen. After the first time. not the third or fifth or tenth or never... These are very smart, active dogs, always looking for trouble so it is important that they have consistency.
I multiply this by everything she does with them and then look at what it would have been like to have children together. Yikes!!
I grew up in a "normal" family. It was just myself and my parents. They were both loving and supportive of me and each other. Their marriage wasn't perfect, obviously, but they never dragged me into their differences. My Mom passed away 2 years ago, but my Dad and I are super close. I LOVE spending time with him.
We had our fair share of crazy extended family, but we lived in SC and they were scattered across the country (AZ, OH, NY) so their crazy never really affected me directly.
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And be realistic about what can and can't be changed. My best friend's hubby just can't. keep. the house. clean. He's a good partner, they're on the same page about the kids, they split housework (he's a great cook) and looking after the kids - but he just can't seem to clean up his messes, and it was making her more and more resentful.
Because they can afford it, they hired a cleaner to come in. It removed the source of resentment.