Remember back to when a dis-functional family referred to a family that had a really bad kid who had been arrested for drugs and the father was a drunk and the mom was a shoplifter? Me neither. But when I thought of a “dis-functional family” that was the kind of image I got in my head. And it stayed that way until I had kids of my own. Now I look back and think as I was growing up that my family was dis-functional. Not in the bad ways I mentioned, but in ways that don’t make for socially balanced kids. Not that we are unbalanced, but one character trait we (my brother and sisters) all have to one degree or another is an inferiority complex. A fear of never living up to expectation, always a let-down kid. All of us never felt we lived up to the expectations our father put on us. Some of us overcame that.
By the time I was 18 I hated my father so much I could care less what he thought. That set me free, but established a pattern. I was now the strong willed one. My wife had no idea what she was getting into when we got married. The cool thing about being human is we can change. I have gotten better with having had kids. I started recognizing patterns established by my father. I struggle to this day to not repeat his mistakes. My sister has learned to step outside the past the embrace today as well. We still have a brother and another sister who have not moved on and let go.
This topic comes up because I spent time with my brother and his family yesterday. And hearing him “talk” to his wife’s boys makes me think of the way my dad spoke to us as kids. I felt sorry for them. I look at them and see they just are kids doing kid things. Of course he’s married to a woman who belittles him and berates him in front of his own family. Makes me wonder how bad it is when we aren’t around. And then I think, it’s no wonder he hasn’t moved on. He can’t live up to his wife’s expectations. And he’s always being told what he cannot do. And the things he can do are ignored.
I really have to say my wife and her family have helped me to realize there are other ways to parent. I’ve also learned that treating your spouse with equality and respect is required. My biggest problem is listening. Listening is a skill to be learned. My problem is always thinking what to say next in response. I have had to learn to just shut up and listen. It’s hard to do sometimes, especially when I feel passionate about a subject. But I have come a looooonnnnnggg way.
Remember I am the guy who sits on the bench at the mall and waits .. and watches .. and wonders. Every family I’ve ever just sat back and watched, suffers from one form of dis-function or another. And I’m sure if you look, you will see the dis-function in your own family. And when you spot it, be human and change it!