Dr. Rachell N. Anderson
In 1948, the United States declared the right to family as a human right and found it to be the most fundamental unit of social organization. Families provide the primary care and support for members of society from birth through old age. Family members understand themselves to be a part of that group and generally accept a degree of obligation to provide care for one another. It’s these people that Robert Frost may have had in mind when he wrote, “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” As a member of the human family, they have to take you because you belong to them and you are one of them.
So, family is primary for humans. The most obvious responsibilities for families are preserving and caring for children. This duty involves feeding, clothing, sheltering, teaching and keeping them from harm. Families are social institutions with their own histories, features, and functions and having their own goals and purposes. Families are valuable for what they can do for us, and for what they are and for what they contribute to our communities.
However, there is no one picture that depicts all families. They come in many sizes, shapes, colors and configurations. They are expected to be a structure of love and trust. Even when these are absent, messages about how to be in relationships and in the world are forged by its members.
We get our identities from our families. Each of us is someone’s child, someone brother or sister and someone’s grandchild. Fragments of stories that parents, siblings, and other family members tell help children to build the narrative for their lives and construct their identities. As children acquire self awareness, revisions occur at about age 6 and they assume they are independent in their thoughts and beliefs. They develop that sense of self and incorporate or in opposition the narratives from family members. One feature that can’t be helped is family members encumber their children with a conception of how to treat and to think about others, for good of for ill.
Families are expected to be places of love. Children need love just as much as they need food, clothing, and the other goods and services families provide. However, it is not a service like clean clothes, a hot bath or a dinner. Specific kinds of behaviors teach children how to develop interpersonal connection. This is a process for giving and receiving love that is designed to help children learn how to be in relationships with others. When the child is an infant, the connection is one sided; the parents give and the child receives. But what they give is themselves. Children learn to give love by receiving it.
Family is where we get our morals. While adults are teaching children to walk, talk, eat and be civilized, they are also same teaching them how to see the world and also how to be in the world. In other words, how to make sense of life and your part in it. As a result, children learn their parents’ view on the world. It may be full of both useful and useless materials. Parents can only teach what they know and are themselves a product of their world. If the messages are mixed with resentment, hate, intimidation, and misinformation about themselves and others, the child may have to unlearn some of the material to be acceptable and successful with their lives. This is where the idea (attributed to Socrates) that the “unexamined life is not worth living.” "The unexamined life" refers to a life lived by rote under the rules of others without examining whether or not one wants to live with those beliefs, feelings, behaviors or rules.
Indeed, people are important in every aspect of out lives. For better or worse, in good-enough families the sense of security that comes from knowing that we do not navigate this world alone is important. We need others. We value the ability to share our lives and our selves with others and find it tragic when people can’t do that.
As we gather for Thanksgiving, an important family holiday in these parts, we often notice values and behaviors espoused by our family members which we find hard to endure and they bring us great concern. It’s important to plan ahead to keep things as peaceful as possible. These 5 suggestions from Dr. Nicole Joseph, a licensed clinical psychologist may help.
What’s a person to do?
1. Refrain form making always and never statements. You always put me down or you never listen to me. Do not re-hash the past; save it for another day.
2. Refrain discussing the big three: Politics, Money, and Religion.
3. Refrain from telling embarrassing stories about others.
4. Refrain from negative family gossip.
5. Refrain from discussion about eating or drinking habits. Thanksgiving is often a day of excess. This is not the day to fix other people.
Remember, as much as we love and need our family members, the only behaviors we can control or change are our own. Make sure your’s fosters connections.
© Dr. Rachell N. Anderson, Psy. D.
Dr. Rachell Anderson is a native of Tunica, a licensed Clinical Psychologist, a Professor Emeritus and author. She taught at the University of Illinois and ran a Private Clinical Practice in Springfield, Illinois for many years. She now lives in Tunica and writes with the Tunica Chapter of the Mississippi Writers Guild in Tunica, Mississippi. Check out her website at WWW.drrachellanderson.com for more articles and books.