I just read an article, written by a spiritual pastor, working in a hospice, discussing what people talk about when they are dying. She reports that family is the over riding theme...those we love, wish we had loved more, withheld love from, desired more love, loved imperfectly and failed to love with any real authenticity. This is the nature of family - yet in seeking improvement in relationships, as each generation strives to have more and do more, we may be creating a illusion that is hard to live up to.
I blame American sit-com and 'Brady bunch' type characters which portrayed only the positive in families. Day after day I hear the disappointment of parents who struggle to create the sweet, kind, funny, continued connectedness they aspire to. People have more, than their parents generation, and want more emotionally too. A 'happy' home would prove their economic efforts worthwhile and there is a tendency to feel thwarted when real life problems prevent sustained enjoyment of one another in our precious free (family) time.
My belief is that families offer the familiarity and friction for us each of us to do our own spiritual work on this earth. That the everyday challenges we experience within the home are essential to growth. Yes, we can aim to improve our emotional regulation, our perseverance with tolerance and grace, but ultimately home is a place where the 'trying' slips and our real, flawed, vulnerable selves appear. Homes without a dose of grumpy, groaning and gruesome are show homes!
What if, instead of wanting to work out every difficulty and iron out every wrinkle in family functioning, we learnt to accept that loving people is hard. Then we would face our unrealistic expectations of continued calm and cooperation. We might even acknowledge the hopelessness we feel when error creeps in (our own and our kids) with a sense of inevitable learning. We could have an angry moment and recover with re-connection, we could share fears and panics and be supportive of our weakness and the terrible feelings of threat that pervade even the strongest amongst us. In this way sadness, envy, irritation and power-plays could be seen for what they are....just our humanity arising.....and we could feel a sense of 'ok' with ALL of ourselves, not just our best bits.
I know, you make shake your heads, and tell me that standards matter and manners don't grow themselves, that children need chiding and that goals to improve are valid mechanisms for family success. I would say yes, go for it, and then on the days that this isn't working, don't believe that it is because your little crew are dysfunctional. Know that it is just hard to hold on to all that we want for and on those days, settle for loving more, not judging more....for reminding yourselves that love INCLUDES pain and problems.....and that without small sufferings we would not know great joys - families are repositories of good and bad and In between...and family life is like a game of 'Snakes and Ladders' ...sometimes you are winning, and sometimes you slide....but it is ultimately part of the game and aiming to enjoy the highs and the hiccups is what creates family success.