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Bear column: What we can learn from family

I hear, whispering in the trees; I hear, they’re towering melodies; They share, their ancient memories; They sing, we’re all family

Thankful” — Beth Hart

It’s been said that your family is the deck of cards fate handed you. In my case there were clearly a couple of Jokers in that deck, and pretty much every card is wild.

As you probably know, family can be tough to love sometimes. Certain members are either better in small doses, or best avoided altogether. No one at the family barbecue has the stomach for uncle Billy’s war stories, and you best keep the small children out of earshot of cousin Jason after he’s cracked his fourth beer.

You may have members of your immediate or extended family with whom you avoid conversations about politics or religion, and blocking family members’ Facebook posts is the new “talk to the hand” for the social media generation.

Family dysfunction might be great fodder for sitcoms, but psychologists say it is the original source of most of our anxieties, fears and shame — the three key emotions responsible for unhappiness.

I remember when I was young if a divorce happened in a family people would say it was a “broken home.” But was it really broken, or did it just change? It seems to me now that the more important detail might be how the family members dealt with that change.

Families have been changing for generations — from the extended families that were necessary when agriculture was the primary source of income, to the nuclear family of the industrial age, to all the variations of families we have today — single parent, mixed, same sex, etc.

The nuclear family — two married adults and their offspring — has been sentimentalized as the ideal family type, but it now accounts for fewer than 20 percent of all households.

Forty percent of American children these days are not being raised by two married parents. — many are either living with one parent, or with cohabiting parents, or with stepparents or grandparents.

For children, though, it is the quality of the relationships within the family that matter more than the family structure, because it’s been proven that children can flourish in a variety of family types and living arrangements.

But as many people these days are finding out, neither children nor marriage are necessary to create a family.

Some find family in social circles, friendships and care networks, while others find family at work, or in recreational activities.

Like many people in this valley, my wife and I necessarily have roommates to afford living here. It actually works out very well because we were lucky enough to find people around our same age who have many of our same values.

But the one thing I’ve discovered is that sharing a house with other adults is akin to living with your own adult siblings. Everyone has their own set of interests, talents, strengths, needs and quirks.

Over time, everyone finds their role within the family — what chores we are best at covering, and who is the most likely to take on every situation that arises.

The biggest keys to getting along, we’ve found, are respect and understanding.

Respect might have to be earned on a job or in a sport, but not in families. It is so important to a family’s function that it must be given unconditionally.

Understanding takes more of an effort, especially if family members are very different in the way they approach their lives.

It’s probably no surprise that psychologists say that misunderstanding, driven by miscommunication, is the primary source of conflict within families.

It can sometimes be difficult to understand why a family member, roommate or friend acts or reacts the way they do. Understanding begins by digging a little deeper. It can be as simple as asking them about their life experiences — what makes them who they are.

If you can do that, without judgment, it may go a long way toward healing the conflict you have with that person.

I have a crazy idea.

What if we all just thought of our nation as one big, crazy dysfunctional family?

What if instead of “us and them” we thought of ourselves as “we”?

What if we respected each other unconditionally, and tried harder to understand why each of us acts and reacts the way we do?

What if we could talk, without judgment, about our perceived conflicts?

In some cultures, love is synonymous with understanding.

What if we all choose love?

Jeff Bear is a Copy Editor and Reporter for the Glenwood Springs Post Independent. You may reach him at jbear@postindependent.com.


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