It's that time of the year already; the holidays. Of course you can't speak on the holidays without speaking on family. When you were younger and thought about the holidays, family was most likely in the forefront of your mind. Oh and you were likely to be excited about it. Now that we're older and we think about the holidays, it's all the chatter of who's coming and why. Not that we aren't happy to see family but it can definitely come with some intense emotions. As we grow up and get through our growing pains, we start to see that favorite cousin, uncle, aunt, and even mother and father differently because..hell we're humans and humans make mistakes. Often times we forget that although we are family and related we are still individuals with flaws. We're going to make mistakes like anyone else does in their life. So why the expectations? Why do we put all this energy to hold family members to a certain standard that we don't hold anyone else in our lives?
First, let's define expectation according to Oxford Languages: a belief that someone will or should achieve something.When you speak on expectations we place on family, we also have to include the perspective of family values. Family values has an influence, if not a major influence, in regards to how, why and what expectations we place on family. Family Values, according to Wikipedia, is defined as: 1. traditional or cultural values that pertain to the family's structure, function, and roles. 2. the moral and ethical principles traditionally upheld and passed on within a family, as fidelity, honesty, and faith. So if your family values is modeled based on having a successful career and continuing to add to the generational wealth then most likely achievements is the expectations that family might hold each other accountable for. Anyone in that family who isn't meeting the expectations of a good career, or having a nice means is going to be seen as not holding up the family standards; basically a "Can't Get Right".
Family values are instilled in us from the time we're babies. I know some of you can remember being told things such as: "What goes on in the family, stays in the family", "Family before outsiders, Family First", "Always help and support family", and "You can talk about family but you bet not let anyone else". Whether you realized it or not, these would be classified as family values; These sayings were passed down from generation to generation. Whereas I could understand one perspective of these values, I can also see the contradictions too. When we're young and hearing our elders tell us these things, the innocent in us romanticized the outlook on family. We gain a somewhat warp point of view of what family represented. We gained the understanding that family will always have our back just like we'll always have theirs. We thought that whatever personal issues that our family would be privy to that it wouldn't reach people outside of our family. We thought family would be honest with us and shut down outsiders who just want to be nosy and gossip. However, you slowly get to see that family will spread your business quicker than them hips after Thanksgiving.
Honestly though, why would we expect anything different? You can't set values for a family as a means to not speak on and air out the dysfunction. This thing called life takes us through many of hills and valleys and to believe that we can't make mistakes and go through hardships too is unrealistic. To expect family to know how to get through what they have going on in life while: simultaneously staying in your role, maintaining the structure, and making sure there isn't any malfunction is impractical. While I may be a daughter, granddaughter, niece and cousin to my family, I'm also a mother and wife to my immediate family. And yet, in a perfect world we'd love for our lives to run smoothly without any hiccups, life doesn't work that way. So to expect family to be consistent in their roles, functions and structures is placing them in a box and not allowing them to be who they are.
When you put these values onto your family you don't allow yourself to see them for who they are. You will constantly hold them in a box because they can only be of value when they are in their roles. If your aunt is seen as the one who you go to for help and keeping things together then that's what's going to always be what is expected of your aunt. Now it's not often thought about for someone to ask: "Well, who's helping Aunt when she needs help?". Realistically Aunt could be in a bind but she's more hesitant to reach out to the family for help because she realizes that they come to her for help. Aunt could feel as though she'd be burdening her family for help and that she's failing her expectations for needing help. So what does Aunt do? Aunt allows herself to be burden with the expectation while possibly resenting the position she was placed in. If the family viewed Aunt as a individual and not a role maybe the family would frequently check in on Aunt and allow Aunt to feel the support she has from the family regardless of her role.
You can't discuss changing the way you see your family outside of their roles and not speak on building relationships. See if we actually spent times getting to know our family outside of the roles we've placed them in then maybe we wouldn't hold these expectations to them. You'd allow yourself to see the human in them. You'd actually know that your cousin has bad anxiety and that's why he's more standoffish when there's a big family gathering. No, it's not the rumored talk of "She doesn't like this side of the family". That's how labels, judgment and reputations get passed along. When you actually try to become involved or engaged with your family outside of funerals, weddings, and holidays then you can avoid the speculations and gossip. We assume because we grew up together, raised them, or was around them, that we automatically still "know them". That's why the saying goes "how family see you is always how they see you", because we hang on to what's familiar. We forget that like anybody else in this world, including you, we all grow. Who I was as a little girl isn't who I was as teenager, young adult or now. We are ever evolving beings. So because I may have a had a substance abuse problem in the past doesn't mean I'm going to always be an addict. Just like "Aunt" being able to be helpful and supportive to the family doesn't mean she will always have the ability to be helpful and supportive.
That's the reason why you should always be receptive to nurturing and building a relationship with family because we aren't always going to be the person you used to know. As individuals we go through obstacles and challenges in our lives that play an affect on the people we grow into being. Even as a parent I've come to learn that my child is an individual and they're going to have to make the decisions all on their own. I might not like some of the decisions they make but I have to understand that I have to allow my children the space to become their own person. I can't hold my children to an expectation of being someone I wasn't at their age. I had to go through my own life lessons to be where I am and I shouldn't hold my children to anything different. Yes, I'm their parent but they have aspects of their lives that I won't be involved in so it's up to me to continue to nurture a relationship with my children where they feel comfortable enough to open up and talk to me without feeling judge.
I tend to believe that when we actually take the time to build our own relationship with people, it allows us to be more understanding and less judgmental of who they are. It can make the relationship blossom much easier if we allow people to be who they are without the burden of who we expect them to be. It also can allow you to avoid drama, gossip and toxicity when you get to know family individually; you realize this isn't someone you can be around when it comes to your peace, sobriety, and/or safety. See, going back to a previous point I made, we can't assume that when dealing with family we aren't going to face the same conflicts that we face when dealing with people. That's why we should stop putting expectation on to family. They aren't sanctioned with these magical powers that make them a "special" person without flaws. They're people who happen to be related to you. Simple. You can see Aunt as more than the role to have it all together and it wouldn't be any side eyeing when she has a moment in her life when she doesn't have it all together. You can see your children as adult verses that child that you had to raise and discipline. You would talk to them and interact with them differently because you've transitioned from a parent of child to a parent of a young adult.
When building and nurturing relationships we have to learn how to get through the difficult conversations and issues in a healthy way. It's not easy when it comes to establishing relationships with family because, it's hard to see the growth in people that we're often times around. It also has a lot to do with insecurities to because, hey...we don't go without flaws. Respecting each other for our own life decisions, choices, and experiences; set boundaries that don't have to fuel the stresses of dealing with family. You don't have to agree with family and their choices but you have to respect the fact it's their choice. You don't have to disown your family, be upset or distance yourself from family because they don't share the same values, ideas, or beliefs. Family is an import benefit to your life. It's the foundation to your life. It's what gives you the childhood traumas and the childhood memories. However, we could lessen the trauma with more memories if we looked at each other as individuals first and stop looking at each other for what roles we play. If we stopped putting on the expectations of what role someone is supposed to always play despite the fact that we have layers, we could have more healthy family relationships. These healthy relationships can be passed on as the family values. We would have less drama at family functions and less family members not speaking.
I'm an advocate in believing that we strive as the human species when we establish and nurture connections between each other, and it can hinder these connections when we don't allow ourselves to see them differently.When it comes to putting the work in to have a good relationship, it definitely doesn't make being family an exception to the rule. Just like with a romantic relationship or a friendship, it takes work and effort. We don't just get to throw family by the waist side to let it fend for itself because we want to cruise control through some point of our life without effort. Family isn't obligated to make you feel all cozy and warm inside about life, it actually should be an intro to life. An introduction to teaching you how to communicate, build relationships, nurture relationships, social cues, an all around experience of what's to come. But now you can be somewhat prepared. It doesn't have to be this emotionally draining dealing with family if we all stop expecting each other to meet expectations that they probably didn't even know was being expected.
How do you feel when the subject of family comes up? Do you feel it's too much expectations when it involves family? Do you feel like family should represent the same thing? Comment below and join the conversation.