The summer holidays have been a great time to catch up with family and friends. I'm always fascinated by the different ways people 'family'
'Familying' I think is a better way of describing the dynamic processes of family life. The noun 'family' sounds static, and fixed, much as 'table' and 'chair' are. We know there are different kinds of tables and chairs and families but when we look at a chair, or a table, we don't expect that particular chair or table to change before our eyes, or even over time.
But families do change over time, they change in the blink of an eye. it's not just that one family is different from another, it's also that families are are constantly in flux, works in process. Which is why I like the verb 'to family' or 'familying'.
Before I had kids I thought I knew how to family. I had read the books, spent years teaching and years in therapy; I thought I had it sorted. How wrong I was.
How do any of us learn to family? I know some people who had really happy childhoods and still have a really close family themselves and it seems to me that these folks have great role models for familying. They just do what their parents did. On holiday I had conversations with 2 women who were from such families and no surprise that they were in long term stable, happy relationships themselves.
I think that those of us from divorced families have more to learn about familying. No one gets married in order to get divorced and yet statistics show that if you have divorced parents you are much more likely to divorce yourself, and so it has been with me. I think that part of the reason for this pattern is that I have a role model for being a single parent, but I don't have a role model for being a family. So what do we do about that?
Before I had children, I actively spent time with families I liked. I loved their company but I was also soaking up family life and how they did it. I asked questions, watched and listened and when I eventually had my own children, I turned to these same people for support.
Over the years I have also had people in my life who have acted in parent roles and different times; therapists, trainers, wise elders and i have learned from experiencing the way they nurtured and supported me.
These experiences of being with other families influenced me consciously as well as unconsciously and I still watch other families when we are with them to see how they do things, to learn from them.
Parental introjects are the messages and models which live on in us from the big people in our childhood like parents and without awareness they can end up running the show; which is sometimes useful and sometimes not.
It wasn't until Partner moved in with us and questioned why I was making the kids eat everything on their plate that I saw that the behaviour which has been appropriate for my war generation parents, wasn't one which I wanted to continue with. He also noticed that I don't like anyone watching TV during the day; this is another parental introject, but one I am happy to continue with.
Whilst there may be thousands of books on parenting, on sex, on love, there are fewer on families and many of the books out there look at families from a psychological point of view. We somehow assume that because we all came from a family, we all know how to make a family and the truth is we don't.
No book can tell us how to family, but many books can give us ideas. Time with friends and their families can give us insights, conversations with families we admire can inspire us and becoming aware of our own unconscious family patters so we can dump them if they no longer work for us is part of the crucial work of familying.
If we family without thinking, we may end up familying in a way which suited our parents or grandparents but which doesn't suit us so we need new role models; role models of parents, families and children so we can watch, reflect, learn and make choices so the family we co-create with our family members is one which really allows evey one to flourish and thrive.