Monday, April 12, 2010

Young Families Can Be Strong Families

Will the young, unhappy family survive to break bread with their children & grandchildren?
While catching up on a favorite TV program this morning, I was reminded again of a subject I often ponder, and that's putting it lightly.
Is individuality, one's own life path, often neglected because of a feeling of obligation to one's family unit?
For instance, during the course of this program, a young couple, one of whom is from a large, sometimes overbearing, but always loving family, and the other, who is intricately connected to the other's family through personal and business relationships, decide to throw caution and the family's obsession with their upcoming, and even once or twice (because of the extended family drama) postponed nuptials to the wind and concentrate on each other.
To my silent cheers and delight, the fictional couple decides to -just the two of them, and on the spur of the moment- elope. They elope because it's what they want, because they decide that their lives are about them, they decide that they are each other's family.
Hurray for them! And hurray for the writers of that program. I only hope that people were paying attention and that the message reached someone and did some good toward young people realizing that once they are married, or devoted to each other in an exclusive relationship, that it's all about them- that their mothers, fathers, sisters, brother, grandparents and their relationships, mistakes, opinions & needs are secondary to the relationship and the well-being of the two people.
I'm sensitive to this issue because as a young wife and mother, I allowed my family's negative aspects to interfere with, move in with, overtake and smother, my relationship and obligations to the young family I began with my husband. My husband is long dead. The damage is done. My extended family survived the trials and tribulations, likely just as well with me as they would have without my constant concern and attention.
My young family went down in flames, largely because of the attention paid to and the negative impact of the larger family.
I can't change the past, but I do, often, remind my wounded children, three of whom are now adults, that their first obligation as adults is to be healthy, strong individuals who stand on their own. Then, when they are strong and complete, they can add a partner, but a partner they have come to know very, very well, and one who enhances them and brings them joy. And, preferably, one that is not still connected to his or he family by a cord of any type.
I have, by no standards, been a perfect parent. But I can say that I have allowed my children, with a few exceptions, to live their lives as they see fit. I believe that I have taught them that "selfish" is not a dirty word, but a tool to use to develop one's own character and mores, and then to strengthen that character and those mores.
Don't misunderstand, I want them to be kind and generous and loving. When they were little, I told them often that all I wanted was for them to be their best and to be kind. But I want them to stand on their own, first and foremost.
I want them to know and fulfill themselves, then add a partner, and fulfill their family, put their family first, even before me.
After all, the most lauded text of this Christian Era teaches that maturity is desirable and necessary, and that once one person decides that another person will be his or her life partner, that each should make the other his or her priority, before parents, before siblings, before friends.
I don't believe the reference is to toys and lollipops versus cars & bank accounts,but to immaturity and frivolity versus maturity and self-awareness
in the Biblical passage, "When I was a child, I spoke as a child, , I understood as a child, I thought as a child, but when I became a man (woman) I put away childish things."
I believe this passage also points to the importance of maturity and effective communication between partners -to putting one's partner first.
The passage that really nails the sentiment I'm trying to convey is:"A man leaves his mother and his father and clings to his wife and they become one flesh."
I don't believe that passage is simply referring to sexual intercourse. I believe it's referring to the two becoming a family - an important, worthy of respect, worthy of privacy and happiness family.
I look at the above paintings by Norman Rockwell, and I wonder, why did he depict the young couple, crying toddler at their feet, as fighting, arguing?
I look at the other, and I wonder, why is the extended family pictured as the source of plenty and happiness, versus the depiction of the young family in turmoil? We shouldn't accept that it's business as usual for young couples
to live in turmoil and uncertainty, to feel more of an alliance with or
obligation to the extended family members than to each other.
Maybe I'm reading too much into this, and it's likely Mr.Rockwell
never intended to minimize one type of family versus the other. But in this case, these paintings speak louder,or just as loud,as words.
We need to nurture our children. We need to teach them to become whole, to stand on their own two feet. And we also must give our children the freedom and privacy to become their own families - to nurture those families and allow those young families to grow strong.Will the arguing young couple ever reach their golden years together?It's up to us to teach them how to get there!
What do you think?
Until next Monday, be well!

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