A Random Thought

Hello, everyone! Long post today (based on something I saw on Reddit) so I’ll jump right in.

I am fascinated by the cultishness of family.

Family expects everyone to fit into their particular social construct and whomever does not is simply wrong. Is there no other valid perspective besides that sole family’s perspective? None at all amongst billions of people? Family does not see family members as individual beings but as parts of what should be a well-oiled, ideological machine.

We like to think it is a problem that exists in adolescence and perhaps young adulthood, yet forging your own unique identity can be a struggle that persists well into adulthood – if we’re not careful. Countless adults are still trapped in the constructs and stringent rules that were built for them during childhood and are confused as to who they are outside of them, especially when those values and mores don’t quite fit. In my opinion, the job is to grow into who you were meant to be, with or without the blessing of the people you came from.

For example, sometimes that can equate to pursuing a career as a teacher where you were expected to grow up to work as a doctor or engineer. Notice I didn’t say ‘become’ a doctor. Because often these potential achievements are thrust upon us so rigidly that they morph into an identity we are supposed to take on, an identity set in stone. That ‘doctorhood’ becomes the foundation upon which a strong relationship with family – especially parents – is built upon, failure of which means the child will never really have that Mama, Papa I Made It! moment we all covet so much – even in adulthood. (We all know not every parent ‘just wants their child to be happy’. Some would prefer clout over happiness any day.) Then it becomes necessary to walk away from that identity and erect our own while accommodating the unfair disappointments of family. It’s quite a dance to master, and takes some time and grace.

At this point, each party has become an individual. The son or daughter has become their own person. And the parent has become someone who never reached a particular goal, even though they wanted to do it vicariously through someone else. And everyone will have to be fine with that. At least, eventually.

It’s a necessary stalemate that many live with daily. We can’t help what our parents and other family want for us. We can’t control that. Also, we can’t help having the desires that we do, especially when they are harmless and actually quite meaningful. Why should we? Getting to a place where we accept this stalemate, will have to do. At least on our part, if the other parties involved are loathe to compromise. We will find our tribe, if we don’t give into bitterness and anger at what we can’t have from the people we have known the longest. But, it’s imperative to make our lives our own. Even if it never leads to resounding success. That resounding-ness is only one version of success; and not the only valid one at that. It is worth it to have done life our way at all.

If I may be so blunt, this is where I go off at this particular tangent: I marvel at the dynamic of families where the child was adopted. Some see it as a negative thing that there is sometimes an underlying, objective current of, “This is not really my child and I will always know that.” When something subjectively bad happens, some have said, “Well, we already know he/she doesn’t get that from us.” And so the family easily divorces itself from the adopted child’s ‘negative’ or ‘undesirable’ traits. But hear me out.

To me, this can be transformed into a positive. A blessing in painful disguise, per se. Because unlike the biological family unit, the adoptive family understands that the child is not inherently their property – so to speak. They don’t really ‘own’ this child. The child is a separate being who behaves in their own ‘separate’ way. And this has nothing to do with them. A biological family unit struggles to see it this way because the child is supposed to be a ‘copy’ of them. So how dare she/he be ‘off’? And what does all this ‘bizarre’ behaviour say about the family itself? ‘Nothing good, of course.’ And so that unhealthy dynamic of control and ownership persists, so that the child can be reined in and portray a better image of the family genes.

Just my two cents. Of course, I know not every biological and adoptive family unit behaves in these ways but I think the cultish, cog-in-a-wheel aspect of some families is interesting. And worth deconstructing for anyone having trouble with it or anyone intrigued by it.

I understand that the purpose of family is that everyone in society is generally looked after. It is a call to duty. Which is my opinion on why we are prone to organise ourselves into groups or clans, why we need friends or just someone to be around regularly for us to feel human or even just to survive. Family is a call to duty and a means of survival. Everything else is ruthless politics, a distraction from the aggressor’s own existential crises and a waste of life. (If that everything else is actually positive and lovely, then it’s a bonus.)

The control, the manipulation, the emotional blackmail, the shaming of the black sheep or the least favourite, the highlighting of the most favourite, the humbling of the achiever or the beauty, the honing in of the ‘different’ personality, ideal careers, the sacrifices made to fulfil unhealthy norms… All unnecessary. The sun doesn’t care.

What’s my point? I don’t really have one. Just throwing my thoughts out there just because. Or perhaps it’s that it would do us good to fulfil duty when need be – raise decent, functioning people and be decent, functioning people – and leave it at that. Perhaps the romance may be reserved for every other type of relationship – which at least we choose whom to participate with. But not family. The extra expectations and romanticising family are cute in novels and movies but are they realistic? So often, it seems that people who are so opposite to each other are thrown together as some cosmic joke and expected to function smoothly as a perfect family unit. (…which does not exist because all families have their dysfunction, to the point that dysfunction is really what is normal. That said, yes I do agree that we should continue to strive towards sound family units. Just not perfect ones.) It is too much to expect to fulfil each other.

Your parents, my parents, our children might never be what we wanted them to be. That doesn’t mean they are disappointing.

But if they tried to do well – even by their own standards and knowledge, give them the credit and move on. If they were horrible, do what you need to do to make peace with that (not necessarily with them) and let your life go on. Don’t let what they did continue to rule the fate of all your other relationships. Easier said than done, I know. But possible. Enjoy the reality that, especially in your adulthood, your parent is no longer your demi-god but a mere mortal. They have no real superpower over you anymore. You can now decide that you are worthy and reinforce that as truth in your daily life. Who you are is now up to you. Why not enjoy that?

And if they were alright but simply not what you expected, let them live. Don’t subtly tie them all up in knots of guilt. I’m sorry. But there’s no time for anything else. And you are not their god, judge and prosecutor either.

Let them have their favourites and become your own. Also, you are probably somebody’s best. Just not who you expected.

Again, I’m sorry. But there’s no time for anything else but positively moving on.

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Copyright © 2021 Tebogo Ndlovu

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