I have always had a strained relationship with my family. It is something that I had come to terms with a long time ago. However, when I had children, the focus on family, along with many other things, shifted greatly. I no longer had only my feelings to consider, reflect on and overcome. I had two other very fragile hearts and minds to think about.
I made a conscious effort to make the best of a tough situation. When we were around my parents, brother or sister, I put on a smile and painted a nice picture for the kids. They were little, didn't really know any better and certainly didn't need to know any more. As an adult, I knew very well that I could do pretty much anything for a little while, especially if it benefited my kids. So, if it made my kids happy to have family around that seemed to care about them and if it created memories for them I would do my best to keep up the act.
As time went on, I started to lose these family members. With each loss came the loss of one charade and the beginning of a new one. Nearly six years ago, my father passed away. Nearly one year ago, my mother followed him. There were no more strained visits, no more charades. Now, I had to keep up the memorial dance for the kids. I had to show them everything that I lost when I lost my parents. I had to review all the good memories I wasn't sure I even had and all the times I really wanted to forget but had to pretend I desperately wanted to remember. I had to do this because I could not have my children grow up thinking it was acceptable to not passionately and unconditionally mourn the loss of your parents.
Without my parents, my ties to my sister loosened even more. My brother, however, clung tightly, especially after the loss of our mother. My children were getting older and I felt it was even more important to continue the tradition of family so I kept up the tie, no matter how difficult it was at times. After all, I could do anything for a little while, right?
My son, who is 6, is still in the halcyon days of childhood. He sees his uncle and looks for the best aspects, rides the high notes and comes away with a smile. My daughter, who is 10, and has always been decidedly more contemplative than her brother, has begun to see things for what they are. This holds true for many aspects of her life, but in particular, she is beginning to see and hear things about interpersonal relationships. She sees, she hears, she questions and we talk. The talks are getting tougher and tougher.
I struggle with how to convey my emotions about my family to my daughter. On the one hand, I want to be as honest and forthcoming with her as possible. But, on the other hand, I fear her ever thinking it is OK not to have a really good relationship with me, her father or her brother. By admitting the flaws in my family ties, I worry that I will increase the chances of her not holding tightly onto hers.
At the end of each one of my sessions of contemplation I always come back to the same conclusion. I decide to take the advice I always give my kids. Try your best. It's all I can ask of them and it's really all I can ask of myself. I try to take every lesson, good and bad, that my relationships with family members have given me over the course of my life. I mold and shape these lessons into the basic plan I follow for parenting my kids. If I show them enough love, laughter and joy, perhaps that will be all they need to know how important their ties to their own family are.
I have made many choices in my life when it comes to family. I have chosen what is best for me and I have to now choose what is best for my kids. These choices will not always mesh. There will be confusion, discussion, possibly a little sadness here and there. But, at the end of it all, our love, and our best, will have to be enough.