Back in February, my dad sent my sisters and me copies of this book, Why Do I Love These People, by Po Bronson. He had read it, and thought it was a valuable collection of stories that we might all enjoy, and perhaps gain something from. The stories are those of families, and how they overcome difficulties in their lives, and come out of hard times closer together than they were before. Some of the stories related to dealing with parents, others to spouses, and still others, children or siblings. Some to all of the above.
What struck me the most about the stories in this book was a theme that Bronson reiterated over and over again, that none of us have the perfect family. That no such family exists. My wise friend Dorothy once told me that she had realized that she had a perfect family, at least a picture of one, in her head…and that her family in real life was never going to measure up, and the best thing she could do was to accept that. Well, Bronson pretty much says the same thing, except that he goes on to say that while we will never have a perfect family, we can usually have a better relationship than we do have, with our current family. We can do this through a combination of honesty and clarity. In his words:
“…the tools we have are ancient ones. They are these: taking responsibility and granting forgiveness; discernment and awareness; willingness to change and acceptance that things won’t change; honesty and tact; perception and empathy; compromise; listening; communication. That’s really it. What we expect from family is changing, but the means to get us there aren’t.”
What does he mean when he says that what we expect from family is changing? There’s a chapter in the middle of all of these stories, Halftime, where Bronson talks about how the myth of the perfect family leads us to believe that if our family isn’t perfect, we’re somehow alone in this, and that other families out there have it so much better than we do.
Let’s consider some of the fears that come from comparing ourselves to presumed sociological norms:
- That stepfamilies and ‘alternative’ families are a new phenomenon to deal with.
- That we have lost the traditional nuclear family.
- That we have lost stability in general.
- That divorces are so common.
- That the elderly are neglected.
- That we don’t spend as much time with our kids.
- That children are exposed to too much these days.
He goes on to say that while these are real issues in some families, overall our society is doing much better than we see. He gives examples comparing modern times to our past, such as the number of step-families in Colonial America, where 1/2 of all children would lose at least one parent by the time they were 13, and almost 1/2 of those would go on to lose the other parent. Regarding divorce, before divorce became easier to get, did families live happier lives? No. Desertion and separation were the answers then. Not a pretty thought, and suddenly, divorce doesn’t seem like such a bad idea.
In fact, most of the statistics that make our society look so bad are actually indicators of good things emerging-that women and children have rights, that we value some privacy and independence, and that we hold the quality of marriages to a higher standard.
We’ve got it pretty good. The golden era for family is not in our past, it’s in our future.
This isn’t my favorite genre of reading, and I doubt that I would jump in and get a lot more books in this same vain. But the stories included were moving tales of people with real faults, real problems, and how they dealt with those issues, and came out happier and healthier on the other side. I would recommend checking this book out, or at least peeking at the sample chapters included on Bronson’s website, to anyone who has looked at their family and wondered if the pain and troubles can be fixed, and if they have any power to bring about change in their own lives. Thanks, Dad. 🙂