Musings about Family...and Life...
by Ann Woldt
Things I’ve learned about families in my nearly 66 years of life:
Nearly ALL families are “dysfunctional.” The stereotypical family – mom; dad; couple of kids; nice house; dog; food on the table; everyone loving, forgiving, accepting and defending each other, doesn’t often really exist in real life. At least not to the extent that we think it should, or have been led to believe it should.
Nearly ALL of us have “black sheep” -- people that we don’t want the rest of the world to know about. People we hide, cover up for, try to pretend they don’t exist. Nearly ALL of us hide “family secrets,” even from members of our same family. Nearly all of us have people somewhere in our family who don’t care for us, appreciate us, people who don’t love us, people that don’t respect us -- and they’re called “family.”
Nearly all siblings compete with each other for attention. And parents do indeed have “favorites.” As much as they try to cover it up, kids know. And make it clear to each other, and use that favoritism to their advantage, when they can.
Families very often “take care” of each other out of obligation, not love. The recipient of the “care” knows that it’s being done out of obligation, not love. Knowing that I’m a burden to someone -- whether intentional or unintentional, is one of the more painful of my life experiences. I find that seeking care from non-family members, even if it’s paid care, is much more satisfactory. The pain I experience when I have to ask for assistance from my husband is indescribable.
I don’t define “family” as “blood” relatives, or “relatives by marriage,” but by people I truly care about, and who care about me. Most of my “family” is not physically related to me in any way. And that’s OK.
Self-reliance is a virtue. I work hard to arrange my life, my finances, my living situation such that I don’t have to rely on anyone to care for me.
Often it means sacrificing things I want, or want to do, in order to assure, as best I can, that I can continue to care for myself. Then if someone comes along who does really care about me, I can truly appreciate his/her concern. Otherwise, I’ll do it myself, thank you.
Self-respect is a key. If I don’t respect myself, if I don’t think I’m smart and capable (in my case, even despite my disability), then I can’t expect that anyone else will respect me. And when people do indeed disrespect me, I don’t take it personally. I am who I am.
I can’t solve everyone else’s problems. And I can’t change anyone else’s behavior, even if they are related to me. I can only be responsible for myself. If I look at what I’ve done, or said, and am truly OK with it, then it really doesn’t matter to me what anyone else might think, or do. Adults won’t change their behavior simply because I don’t like it, or it hurts me. They’ll do what they do. What matters is how I respond to it. And most of the time, I try to just walk away.
Life isn’t fair. Good people get hurt, good people suffer. Bad things do happen to good people, most of the time for no good reason.
I grew up knowing that I was cared for not out of love, but out of obligation. I’ve refused to put anyone else in that situation. We chose not to have kids, and so other than each other, there really isn’t anyone else in the world who we will expect to care for us. And that’s OK.
Family, Community, social services (including churches)...all are important. And are available, if I’m willing to be flexible about how those words are defined. But I have to be humble enough, or maybe confident enough, to ask.
Ann Woldt lives in rural Wisconsin on 15 acres of land, some of which she and her husband of 43 years, Ralph, have restored to native prairie. Ann has been a UU for 40 years, and a member of CLF for the last 13.