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The family: a collection of good friends

When our kids were small, they always used to ask us why there wasn't a ''Children's Day.'' With minimal patience, our answer invariably indicated that every day was. But now they've grown, we've come to wonder ourselves why there isn't a ''Family Day'' - not just singling out fathers or mothers or kids, but celebrating the existence of the Whole Unit.

I have learned a lot from my family, and the knowledge that many young couples are choosing not to start families bothers me, for I feel they are missing some good samples of life ''outside.'' The family is a microcosm of the outside world, and it offers its ''practice runs'' in a supportive and understanding atmosphere.

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I started out in this family thing as a young wife who really did not know anything about the benefits I was going to encounter. My husband and I had babies like many other couples, but I wasn't sure what was in it for me. Besides bringing a joy to me that I had never experienced, it brought me the knowledge of a frustration I had never known. I'd assumed I was a patient person - but that was in a world of reason and understandable limitations. Here I was, for the first time, involved in irrational and uncontrollable little psyches, and for the first time in my life, I was not ''in control.'' The happy world of little people was brand new to me, and I had to accept the feeling of not understanding it all, not working on reasoned premises, and to smile inside and out at the life and growth that was going on in front of me.

As years have passed, our family group has been exposed to many pieces of real (outside) life, in a small, supportive, comfortable atmosphere. As we approach being four adults who live together, we realize how varied those four are and how we have to bend with each other. The personalities and preferences are just as weird as those outside there in the macrocosm of living; only in the family we are exposed more deeply and asked more repeatedly to accept idiosyncrasies and variations of style. We also have learned in one family about ''wants,'' and how they have to be integrated into a bigger picture composed of many conflicting ideas - family priorities, finances, limitations, and, of course, others' ''wants.''

I think a lot of pluses fall under the big heading called ''exposure.'' Despite the slow dying of apprenticeship in society at large, the benefits of such a system can still be felt in the ''watching and trying'' methods of daily family living. In addition, our mutual exposure with our kids to James Taylor and Pavo-rotti brings an earful of something (and somebody) we would have been closed to other-wise. Learning to learn from, and listen to, people outside our experience is an invaluable benefit we cannot avoid in the family. Hearing what it was like in times past, when a different morality was in vogue, is probably as effective as hearing about a well-used bed in the dorm at college. I'm not sure we'd take the time to hear each other out if the kids weren't sitting across from us at supper.

Family arguments are good samples for life. We have the chance to sit and listen, to hear somebody out, to let tears run and to let frustrations fly (we are going to witness them all ''out there'' someday). How nice to have practice at it - with listening, countering, teasing, and offering hankies in an atmosphere where people can still say (and mean) ''sleep well'' at the end of the day. Then, too, there's the accommodation to ''bad days,'' whether they're biological or official. To have to accept these doldrums in others in stride, and know that it's not you that's the cause of the funk, is something that takes time and patience and lip-biting, and understanding and loving. Days like these come whether the group is small and at home, or big and ''out there.'' Being made fun of, laughing at yourself and at each other, is unavoidable. It is impossible to bring up kids in a thoughtful and honest style and not be affected by it all in a positive, humorous, introspective way.

Then there is talk. It is a very unique experience to be told clearly and logically, by someone half your age, why you are wrong. Then too, all the thoughts that run around inside you, that you just want to hear out loud, can be tried on someone who's close and who cares. All the angers and the pleasures can be expressed at home, before they are presented outside. Things you can say to mates and kids may be rough drafts of the real speech that will come out tomorrow. A seat in the dark, at night, on the bed of a sleepy parent, can do wonders for verbalizing innermost thoughts and dreams.

The dynamics of what occurs within the family group are fantastic. Urging toward independence, dealing with independence and growth, dealing with sexuality, life cycles, illness, disappointments, handicaps, successes, joys, relationships - all of this is happening from day to day. Of course, a good friend can be ''in there'' just as well. The family is a collection of good friends.

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