Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Did you grow up in a normal family?

Rare personal post coming, apologies in advance.

Pointing to the jumble of clothes in our hot press my daughter complained that we don't fold our clothes "like normal families do". That simple grumble triggered a knee jerk fear reaction in me.

My kids are embarking upon that great adventure in life called "The Teenage Years" and it scares me silly. It scares me because we have had so much fun and closeness during the preteen years and I know that that closeness is probably going to loosen a bit as my kids forge their own adult lives and personalities. I am going to miss that closeness so much. It scares me because of all the big bad nasties that the world has in store for young folk growing up even though I think we have done a pretty good job of preparing them. Most of all though it scares me because I remember my own teenage years as a dark and confusing time of disillusionment, loneliness and self doubt. I really don't want them to experience the same.  To be honest it took me about a decade to recover from my own teenage years. Looking back on it a lot of my angst seems silly to me now but at at the time I worried about many things which really didn't needs worrying about at all.

One of worries that constantly plagued me was that my family wasn't normal and that somehow I wasn't normal either. There were difficulties in my family but there was also a lot of love and there was a bunch of people doing their best to cope with the circumstances life threw at them. If that isn't normal, then I don't know what is. Unfortunately as a teenager I couldn't see beyond the saccharine stereotype of a perfect family living in contented domestic bliss. Even when later I began to come across folks facing much more serious challenges than we did it took me a long time to accept that we hadn't done so badly after all. I was a pretty smart kid in terms of book learning but for some reason I have always been slow to pick up on life's more fundamental lessons like that.

Perhaps I am being paranoid. Perhaps my daughters comment was no more than a passing grumble (our hot press is pretty shocking really). On the other hand she does share a lot of my genes. How can I convince her that there is room in life for all kinds of people and all kinds of families. There is room for people with messy hot presses and room for people with maniacally tidy hot presses. There is room for people who have their first serious boyfriend at 15 and there is room for people who have their first serious boyfriend at 50. There is room for people who like sport and room for people who like music and room for people who like studying. There is even room for people who like sport and music and studying. There are lots of tough things in life but the difference between people is not a tough thing it is a wonderful thing. Can a teenager understand that?


Anonymous said...

Somewhat normal. At least that was what I thought, up until a few years ago.

About twenty years ago I moved to another country (just me) and my big sister didn't take it very well (she was later diagnosed as bipolar w/ chronic depression). Several years later my father died and big sis really didn't take that very well.

A couple of years ago I got a phone call from my big sis. She told me that for several years while we were growing up, Dad had sexually abused her. Big sis said she'd told mom that it was happening but mom never believed her, not until years later when dad apparently finally admitted it.

I knew my big sis's bipolar and anti-depression medication sometimes messed up her head, and while my little sis would have confirmed what big sis told me, I never spoke to little sis about it. Not because I didn't want to know, but because I recalled things Dad used to say and do during our childhood. Things that when I looked back on them, in that context, meant my big sis was probably telling the truth.

My father sexually abused my sister while we were growing up and I had no idea. Which was probably for the better or I would not have survived high school. I would have confronted Dad and he would have killed me. Seriously. Killed, as in dead.

If your childhood seems pretty normal now, you're welcome.

mbp said...

Thank you for your comment @anonymous. I can only imagine how deeply distressing this must have been for you to learn of adulthood and I do hope the passage of time makes this less painful for you and your sisters to remember.

Serious things do happen in families and the things that happen in our families impact upon us very deeply for a very long time. In my post I trivialised the differences between families but of course the truth is that many many families have to deal with with very serious issues like serious illness, bereavement, drug addiction, alcoholism, mental health issues, abuse, infidelity extreme poverty and so on.

However my point still holds. Just because you have these problems does not mean your family is not normal and it sure as hell doesn't mean you are not normal. Very many normal families have very real problems and normal people have deal with these problems the best way they can.

I don't know if you are old enough to remember the Waltons TV show? I get angry now thinking about it and similar shows which portrayed a wholesome image of "normal" family life in which simple goodness always triumphs in the end. Real life isn't like that unfortunately. Then again maybe maybe it is not so unfortunate. Maybe all this messy complicated jumble is what life is really all about and maybe dealing with this mess is really living. Maybe instead of feeling guilty about the things we did and didn't do as a teenager we can feel proud to have just survived and continue to feel proud as we keep on surviving each and every day.

Anonymous said...

Aah, the Waltons. What a strange twist of fate that you should bring them up, mbp. I guess I cannot be truly anonymous any longer. My name is John, and when I was young and going to bed my father would frequently call out "Good night, John boy," and I of course responded, "Good night, Pa."

When I returned home to bury my father, as I stood over his grave, I said one last, very tearful, "Good night, Pa."

I don't think any family is normal. There is no "average" family. We all have problems of one kind or another. Not folding your clothes, or eating a Sunday roast, or having a weekly family Games Night doesn't mean you're not normal, nor does doing those things make you a "normal family".

Nobody is normal. We just are. Are, in the existential sense.