The Family Box

Family can be one of the tiniest boxes of all. History is part and parcel with belonging to a family and it is the breeding ground for that which I am struggling so hard against, conformity.

The holidays is probably the worst time of year for feeling the family want to squeeeeeeeze you into the box that represents what “has always been”. While I believe family members have the best of intentions when trying to plan for holiday meetings, preserve tradition, yahdah yahdah yahdah…I think there’s more to it. I sense that beneath the surface of trying to make things the way they “used to be” or keep things the way they’ve “always been” lurks a longing for something far less attainable, and as such, far more freightening to consider: that which never was.

Nostalgia is a rascal. When I think about the family holiday box, nostalgia rears it’s little head in disguise, as usual. He charms us with memories of the last time, or the first time, or the times in between. But the memories have been airbrushed and that’s why it’s so deceptive. We can remember the time when… and laugh, or smile, or sigh. But, when we’re remembering that, do we remember what was happening on the other side of the room, or in the basement or near the eggnog? Do we remember feeling excluded or ridiculed or singled out? Do we remember the comment that ruined dinner for half the room while the other half died laughing? Were we even aware that someone else may have experienced that moment very differently than we did?

I think that the things I most desperately want to be the way they “used to be” really were not all that great if I’m honest with myself and allow myself to remember the whole picture. But, my longing is real and it’s for something real, yet I am reluctant to admit that I’m longing for something I’ve never had to begin with. I wonder if family holiday boxes are longings in disguise by those of us who are afraid to say, we’ve never had…and boy, it sure would be nice.

I long for family gatherings where everyone feels loved and valued and cared for. I long for family to be a place of authentic community. And, if I’m honest, I know that that has never been. And further, I know that it may never be. At least not on the scale that attempts to bring the whole gang on board. So I ask myself, how then shall I live? I’ve tried to live by attempting to arrange the pieces and the people to fit into my own box, my fantasy box. I’ve tried to run interference and play one side against the middle and do the world’s greatest juggling act. But I’m not finding life in that.

I found life this Christmas in the one on one’s. I was most alive when I shared me with someone else, take me or leave me. I found life as I invited another to know me and love me just where I am and received love and authenticity in return.

I don’t know about yours, but mine is not one great big happy family and I don’t think it will ever be. But within my great big family I’ve experienced great big moments of feeling alive and free to just be and isn’t that better than the box?



4 thoughts on “The Family Box

  1. I will have to ponder this one because my reaction to negative family feelings/situations is to just walk away (otherwise I would be seen as an even worse character!) and leave the negativity be. I leave the bridge between us unbroken but with a serious road sign that reads “I will hurt your feelings should you even attempt to cross!!” Funny, I can accept friends as they are and not get angry but with family I expect so much more that my anger, hurt, disappointment, etc. manifests itself in a seriously strong manner.

  2. My, my, my —
    This post hits some big issues. Family is always tricky so I will address traditions first…

    Traditions though they may seem trite and useless at times are the threads that connect us from generation to generation. Traditions and the inevitable nostalgia that goes along with them have to be flexible and must have the capacity for alteration and growth as times and people change. I am not saying that tradition should be kept if they hurt somebody but that we should be careful not to throw the baby out with the bath water.

    Now for family boxes – can we get out them? Can they not exist? I am not so sure. Many times family boxes are bigger than the invidudal or even the family – a daughter “should” be a certain type of person and do certain things – so says society. A mother “should” be certain ways and respond in specific patterns -so says society. Husbands and wives “should” be this way or that – so says society.
    We all in some way look for people to fit in categories or boxes. It is a part of human nautre. One of the first exercises you learn as a child is to categorize, to sort. We do in small ways in life and we do it with the people in our lives. Maybe rather than fighting that human nature impulse we should look to tame that impulse by becoming more tolerant of the variation in the box. We might need to stretch our boxes or when the box gets broken learn to re-categorize, create a new category, fix the box, or accept the circle 🙂
    The most important thing to me is that we recognize that about ourselves and how we do it to others and that we can love in spite of… because if I want to break out of my box I need the inate knowledge that I won’t be ridiculed or toss away as tainted, tarishned, or unlovable.

  3. Thank you Kris and Anonymous for commenting on this one. This one’s tough, I know. And, the tension created by both being distant in order to keep the bridge in tact and by wanting to be a circle while terrified of the potential loss and rejection is what prompted this post to begin with. And, I’m struggling hard with this tension.

    On one hand I want to burn the bridge, call it what it is and go on with my life. But I don’t believe it’s that easy or that that’s what I’m called to. And, while I believe I’m to offer grace where I can, I don’t think that means that I should cease to be for someone else’s benefit or comfort. That’s what the family box is all about for me. It reeks of doing what’s going to make the other person happy, regardless of the life it sucks from the “giver”. And, I feel like I’ve found myself on the ‘tip-toeing around the other’ end of this scenario too often. I have no control over whether the other frees me of their expectations, but I do know that I have to be a willing participant for it to keep going. Now, what will it cost…..?

    On the other hand, I want to be loved, accepted and certainly not rejected. But, if what’s being loved and accepted isn’t me, just some pseudo-me that makes ‘you’ comfortable, the real-me IS rejected already. A lot of family tradition feels like this to me: “everyone get into character, we’re about to do this performance one more time!” And for me, that’s not living.

  4. Okay, this one is a brain-tugger. My childhood family memories are glorious for the most part, partly because we only saw the whole family at Christmas, and partly because I was simply oblivious to my family’s craziness until I became a grown woman. I miss my Christmas in Louisiana experiences immensely. But that can never be because too many famiy members have died or moved away and don’t come home anymore.

    I don’t really consider myself having much of a family (by blood) up here (Maryland). Since my mother died and my father remarried, she has absorbed my father into her family traditions, purposely excluding me. My family is the family I married into and that is never quite the same, though much appreciated.

    My struggle is creating family with the members of my household. I want my kids to have good memories and my husband and I too build a home full of tradition and culture.

    This one hurts on so many levels, and I’m not even nearly done thinking about this. More to come another day…

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