I guess in America we’re so sold on this ideal of the perfect, well-adjusted family that is able to confront any conflict and, with true love and understanding, work things through. I’m sure they do exist, but I never knew any of them. Alan Ball
Why is it so important for adults, particularly senior adults, to experience healthy family relationships? Consider the alternatives: The lack of may be an indication of not having any healthy relationships at all, thus resulting in isolation. Isolation promotes depression, which affects our immune system and our mortality. There are few benefits to these adults of not having healthy family relationships. Now, why do I say that? Good family relationships are the usual training ground for having good relationships with other people. Some of you have very small families, particularly if you are older. Hopefully, all is well with you. If so, maybe this information can help you with a friend who has a problem in his or her family. It may also help with some tips for maintaining or improving the good relationships you have with friends. If you are experiencing strained relationships, I urge you to take some action to change that.
There are a number of reasons for consideration of this serious topic. I have previously written about improving dysfunctional families who have been well described in an article published by Brown University. Things you might have considered normal in your past were not normal, and in your haste to tell others (pretend) about a “normal” family life, you most likely overlooked some of those items that continue to create problems for you today. Do not think you are in the minority. You aren’t. As Salman Rushdie says,
There’s a lot of conflict and darkness inside everybody’s family. We all pretend to outsiders that it’s not so, but behind locked doors, there are usually high emotions running.
Today, we see some serious consequences to events that were not right: Mass shootings, domestic shootings, suicides, divorce rates, child abuse, sexual abuse, mental illness, other forms of crime, and addiction. We actually sit around, bemoaning these events as we hear about them, not wanting to take a stab at the most obvious reasons. We don’t like
- to talk about family abuse, incest, alcoholic parents, and so on. That’s embarrassing talk, and it comes too close to home!
- thinking that we will have to excuse someone of having committed a heinous crime or that the courts will justify it for that reason.
- thinking that we just might have to do something about our refusal to give voice to our thinking, to get the conversation rolling.
The Good Ole Days
As we age, we talk about the things that used to be, that wonderful life we had, and even our happiness at how things are going so well right now. Whereas, the fact is we remember things the way we want them to be and not the way they actually were. Of course, this is a defense mechanism because remembering things the way they really were causes anxiety and emotional pain. Chances are if we are able to gloss over a troubled past, we have in some way come to terms with it. We have practiced forgiveness or acceptance. And this is great as long as it works.
If we have become bitter people to the extent that we mistreat others, pushing them away, we need to learn how to step up in our relationships with our family members and with others. It is never too late to renew, reconcile, or clarify relationships. For example, in the case of sexual abuse which might never be reconciled, it is helpful to tell the person that wronged you that there will be no reconciliation or at least not now. Circumstances, such as holidays, funerals, and weddings, force people into situations they would prefer not to be in, but not everyone wants to give up an entire family because the one member who mistreated them is planning to be there. Nor should they be expected to.
Renewing and Maintaining Old Relationships
Some simple ways to do this include practicing thankfulness, asking for and giving forgiveness, staying in touch with others on a regular basis, offering to help out with the little things, and just being there when someone needs to talk. Doing these things will also help us feel good about ourselves. For those with a computer, “connecting” on Facebook can be rewarding. I reported on repairing a bad family history in my last post.
Benefits of Healthy Family Relationships
As we get older, retire, and stay at home more often, the harsh reality of fewer people being around sinks in. We realize that working and taking care of a family occupied a great deal of our time and suddenly, we are left with a lot of time to fill up. It’s time for hobbies, visiting, or traveling. Many of us are fortunate enough to gain and or maintain membership in clubs, attend church, or volunteer with an organization.
Those of you with senior family members should consider spending more time with them or writing and calling them. Older people like to feel needed and they appreciate knowing they can count on family for support, especially during the holidays, as this is the time we remember past family get-togethers, the good and bad. They will deny that they need someone. Pay no attention. If spending the holidays with them is not possible, please encourage your seniors to invite friends over or volunteer in a nursing home during these times. Being with someone is important. Involve other family members in genealogy endeavors, posting your results on charts or in scrapbooks. (See some shown below.)
What Are Families For? They
- Assure us that we are loved.
- Support our endeavors.
- Assure us that we are on the right path.
- Can be brutally honest when we bring on our own failures.
- Stand by us when we are scared.
- Teach us to trust.
- Celebrate our victories with us.
- Give us a sense of belonging.
Judging from the above-stated benefits and qualities, it would behoove us to work toward those goals both with our own parents and with our children. It is too easy to say “Oh, I don’t need them.” or “They don’t need me.” Please reconsider. When we anticipate negativity, we are going to get it. How much better it is to anticipate positivity.
People who are prone to anxiety are nearly always people-pleasers who fear conflict and negative feelings like anger. When you feel upset, you sweep your problems under the rug because you don’t want to upset anyone. You do this so quickly and automatically that you’re not even aware you’re doing it. David D. Burns
Please share your comments and thoughts with me on this post below. Thanks.