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Sunday, May 13, 2012

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Families and Social Expectations

Question: Mother's Day is kind of sad for me. This Mother's Day was another reminder that in my life it's almost always about me giving and not getting anything much in return, not even getting phone calls from my adult kids on Mother's Day. And some members of my extended family are disrespectful of me when our family does get together. What is your advice on dealing with this?

My Answer:

Take a few quiet moments. Sit by yourself and prepare to contemplate an important idea that is contrary to how most people think about life...

*** There is no particular way that family relationships are "supposed" to be. ***

Most people have a quite rigid idea of what a "good" family is supposed to look like. There are "supposed" to be two parents - a man and a woman - who got married to each other in their early 20s (or perhaps late teens or late twenties - depending on cultural differences). They are "supposed" to be about the same age (with the man perhaps 2 years older than the woman). They are "supposed" to have the same racial heritage and have been brought up in the same church (which, of course, neither of them has ever considered changing). They are "supposed" to have 2 children (or 4 or 8 depending on the subculture they belong to). The woman is "supposed" to be subservient to the man, and to focus the majority of her creative energies on parenting her children, while the man spends the majority of his creative energies outside the home.

One of the hallmarks of this "supposed to be" (traditional) family is that when one's children have grown, they are "supposed" to establish their own "good" families (as described in the last paragraph). They are "supposed" to live in the same town they grew up in, or at least nearby. And they are "supposed" to bring the grandchildren to visit very regularly - perhaps for a weekly dinner after a shared Sunday religious service.

Well... Life isn't the way it was "supposed to be." Times are different now, and more people are making different choices. What is much more important to consider, however, is that even in the days of Leave It To Beaver and white picket fences, many families weren't the way they were "supposed to be." People sometimes died young. People occasionally found the courage to leave abusive relationships. And some people have always found the courage to commit their lives to someone of a different color, or religion, or part of the world.

So, how does all this relate to dealing with the kids not calling on Mother's Day?

1. Ideas of expected social behavior are culturally based. While you may have a preference for how others behave, the expectation that they "should" behave that way is based on traditional culture, and not on any natural law.

2. You can't ever change anyone (other than yourself), and you will always suffer whenever you try.

3. Understand that others are not "wrong." They are simply making their choices - as they have a perfect right to. (I hope it is clear that I am speaking of "social choices," and don't categorize things like child abuse as "choices.")

4. Be happy. Live and let live. Spend time in social situations that make you happy, and avoid social situations that make you unhappy.

When your whole family is loving and supportive, it is a great blessing. But when family members are indifferent or hostile, release your expectations, and find the love and support you need elsewhere. - Jonathan Lockwood Huie


A couple of side notes:

Over half of the children born in the United States to women under 30 are now born outside of marriage. In my opinion, this reflects an evolution of cultural norms, rather than "morals going to hell." But whatever your own opinion of this trend, it is important to understand that we live in a world of irreversibly changing social expectations.

Productive and joyful lives have always been lived both inside and outside of traditional families. And suffering, dysfunction, and even child abuse have also occurred both inside and outside of traditional families. I found an article in The Atlantic by the daughter of a "single mother" that you may want to read.

Further reading: Zero-Based Gratitude

How to Forgive and Move On

Honor tradition AND question tradition. - jlh


Anonymous said...

A great article. My friends and I were just talking about this. We may not fully fall into the category of not being remembered, but, some of us didn't get a gift, nor a card and were hurt. We have all learned to deal with it, even though, we question if we did anything wrong. I guess,the times, they are a-changing, and we have to get with it.

Anonymous said...

I do realize times are changing and certain traditions are being discontinued. Through the years I have learned to deal with a lot of change so not receiving a gift or card.. I will get over it. My question is are the people who are making these changes able to accept the fact that they will not receive anything either.
Or are we talking double standards.

Jonathan said...

Re: double standards... I think the new trend is for the social unit to consist of a mother, children who live at home, perhaps a father, and very importantly, the mother's friends. I think the mutually supportive "Mothers' Club" described in The Atlantic article is a key part of the "new normal."

Another aspect of the "new normal" is "assisted living facilities" replacing living with one's grown kids.

Mostly, I don't think we are talking "double standards," but we'll see.

Also note that I am not predicting the end of the traditional family, but rather that healthy families will exist in several forms, rather than just one.

ellie said...

My children are the same..every Christmas or any other special occasion, l get nothing not even a card from the Grandchildren. It makes me sad that my children are not teaching their children about giving and receiving. So l have decided to try the same this Christmas..even though it will hurt not to give.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Jonathan, I would like to express my appreciation of the quotes and stories that have been posted to my email, these quotes have given me inspiration and an open understanding of all our human frailty. I now have more knowledge in which to share with others who find themselves in dispare. thanks again

Mourning mom’s passing said...

My mother’s funeral is today. Yes, we are still on stay-at-home order for COVID19 here in Michigan, but to be honest, my choice not to attend would remain without the virus. I have three older sisters. One of those sisters decided on a funeral where she lives in Indiana and where the state is more open during COVID. We other three, who all live in Michigan, wanted a memorial service a year from now. Mom is originally from Indiana and will be buried next to dad in the hometown cemetery. I love my sisters though we are all very different in our thinking. Now, all my sisters will be at the funeral. I have stood my ground, not out of stubbornness; rather out of my personal feelings about COVID and not wanting/needing to see mom in a casket. Mom will not care if I am not there. Just a week ago she was trying so hard to go to heaven and was kissing my hand. I want her beautiful face to be my last memory. She passed in the early morning hours, in her sleep. She was 100.

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