Friday, August 14, 2009

What’s So Great About Families?

We all live in dysfunctional families.  Admit it, there is an uncle or aunt or cousin or some relative somewhere that you cannot stand to be around or would rather avoid at all costs.  They may not be criminally bad people, but you just simply cannot stand to be around them.

The Christian community largely raises the family up as a strong statement of faith.  Being in a two-parent household is held up as an ideal, sometimes to the detriment of the children.  Yet I know that all families, no matter what form they take, are dysfunctional because, quite simply, they have people in them.

I have often heard many horror stories about family members taking advantage of other family members.  My mother works with a woman whose husband is working for the family business.  He gets no raises and no vacation time and his wife has to work more jobs just to make ends meat at home.  Oh, and she is recovering from cancer.  Talk about rotten in-laws.  I do not see good things for this man and his wife in the future and I am sure she will leave him over it.  I think she would be perfectly justified to do so, because marriage is about the union between a man and woman and I see nothing but disunion there.  A man must walk away from his parents and cling to his wife.  This does not mean he cannot visit them and love them, but his primary obligation is to his own family.

I have heard that identity theft is usually committed by someone the victim knows and that person is usually a family member.  Husbands have opened credit cards in their wife’s name, sons have used their parent’s credit to obtain luxuries and walked away from the debt.  Children will often take advantage of their wealthier parents and try and waste their inheritance like the prodigal son.  I have a friend whose sister is doing that right now with her father.  Three generations of lazy people are living under his roof on his dime.

As far as institutions go, families are nowhere near perfect.  My immediate family has some problems, but we are probably largely above average, as the more I talk to other people, the more I find that to be true.  Or maybe I am just more at peace with my own family issues more so than other people are.  In any case, my extended family, especially on my father’s side, has huge issues.  It could be because there are more people in that family.  But it could also be because of the lack of moral guidance.  It could just be that my father’s family has a greater chance of ending up like a bunch of jerks.  Make no mistake, though, most of them are decent, normal people like most people.

I think our misguided idealism drives us to think that we somehow have an non-existent obligation to our families.  I think families are important, that it is important to stay married if possible (addiction, adultery, and abuse are exceptions) and I think that it is important to raise spiritually healthy children.  But that does not mean these things will guarantee a healthy family.  The only obligation you truly have is maintain a healthy boundary with your family.  If you are an adult, that means that your parents have no say in your life, even if you work for them.  They can fire you if they do not approve of what you do, and if that happened, you would probably be better off anyway.  If you are an adult, that means that you should have a nice, healthy fence around yourself to keep your siblings out.  Healthy boundaries with your family means you will enjoy their company when you do see them.

I do not hold up families as some romantic fantasy.  Nor do I believe that things were better for families and communities in the old days (whenever that was).  There is nothing new under the sun when it comes to human behavior and the dynamic with families is no different.  The only person’s behavior you can control is yours and you should never believe that you can change others.