Could You Attend A Functional Family Convention? If you do these 10 things…

We become part of a family and although it’s a complex machine, we receive no instructions on how to make it work well. Much like becoming a parent, you do it and you fly from the seat of your pants. There’s no instruction manual, no how-to guide, no user guide, not even a quick-start info graphic. No wonder so many families go painfully awry!

So I thought I’d remedy that today. Here are 10 things people who appreciate family do.

1. Love unconditionally. This one seems obvious but you’d be surprised how many people don’t understand how important unconditional love is. Love doesn’t just happen, it takes work. Unconditional love means loving someone regardless of what they’re like or what they do for you. It’s loving for the sake of loving, no more, and no less. Unconditional love is a gift for the giver and the recipient. It starts with loving yourself unconditionally and grows from there.

2. Seek understanding. Notice that says, “Seek understanding” not “be understanding.” My point here is  it’s up to each person to reach out to family members to try to be understood by sharing what matters to them. Great family members want others to know them well.

3. Be understanding. Here’s the other side of the understanding coin. Understanding is definitely a two-way street. Family members who wish to be understood are often the ones who understand others well. The give and take of understanding is the foundation of any great relationship. It’s particularly acute in families where if you can’t understand each other, it’s harder to just walk away.

4. Stand and fight. Yes, sometimes conflict happens and it probably should. Chances are if you never disagree on anything in a family it’s because you’re not doing much together. Family members who interact a great deal are likely to disagree from time to time. It’s okay. Those who stand and fight can also resolve problems. Those resolutions lead to stronger bonds. So great family members don’t have to shy away from problems, they can fight and win stronger ties.

5. Forgive. Following the fighting with forgiveness is a hallmark of a healthy functioning family. Forgiveness isn’t magic. It doesn’t just happen. It’s a conscious letting-go of any resentment. A conscious letting-go. Family members who want to move on after a conflict make a choice to move forward to peace of mind. Those family members help to set others free from the pain of the conflict. This one is huge.

6. Give. People who understand the value of giving in a relationship don’t hesitate to do so. They may give time, they may give money, they may share possessions, they may give a sympathetic ear, they give what they can when they can. Giving is a way of exhibiting caring. It’s a manifestation of how a person feels.

7. Take. The other side of this coin. Giving is great but, surprisingly, taking reasonably is also terrific. (In other words, there’s a difference between taking and taking advantage which is not good.) Being able to accept, whether it’s time or help or money or advice is important. It may show vulnerability and that is a good thing of sorts. Being vulnerable means to be open to hurt. Why is that good? When people are vulnerable they are exposed because their defenses are down. In a family the walls that protect us should not have to exist.  Great family members should be comfortable with being somewhat vulnerable and open to emotion.

8. Stay honest in the big moments. Honesty is fluid and that’s okay. If your sister gets an awful haircut a loving family member can choose to assure her it looks okay and that’s fine. But a loving family member doesn’t tell lies to manipulate others.

9. Eschew secrets. There’s a fine line between being trustworthy with private matters and keeping secrets that shouldn’t be kept. Loving family members don’t recruit others to keep secrets that might later come out and hurt people.

10. Be accountable, reliable, responsible and dependable. Loving family members mean what they say, do what they promised and show up.

So, how does your family stack up? If you have family members who do all of these things, consider sending this post with a thank you note to brighten their day. And if you think you could do a bit better, consider sharing this post with a note of promise to work harder so your family functions better than ever. Is there anything you’d add to this list?

syncswim

I Don’t Recognize My Sister, Nor Do I Think I Want To

My sister hasn’t spoken to me for about 25 years. As I described in detail in my book, I don’t really know why she’s so angry. She has never been willing to tell me beyond the time she and her husband (who, I believe is really the abusive control freak responsible for my sister cutting me and my entire family out of her life) took me to court over something completely nonsensical and lost. If I passed her on the street I’m not sure I’d know who she was and I doubt she’d recognize me. People tend to change a bit in that many years and besides that, I’m pretty sure she’d walk right past me if she did know it was me.

But yesterday I saw her online and I didn’t recognize her. It wasn’t her face, it was her words that were foreign to me. Once upon a time when we had a relationship. We had things in common, we liked shopping together, we we were of similar minds politically. Among other things we agreed on, we were pretty much both pacifists. Okay it was during the Vietnam War era and a lot of people were pacifists but we were and I thought it was for real in both of us.

So yesterday when I happened upon an Op-Ed piece she wrote in a newspaper I was shocked. My pacifist sister was not only no longer a pacifist, she was pretty much strongly advocating going into regions of the world and scorching and burning people, places, and things. Agree or disagreeing politically is one thing but this was a complete reversal of her belief system. She really had become a different person altogether than the one I grew up next to. I wondered, what if she hadn’t cut me out of her life? Would I even want to know this person? Yes, I know we all  have people in our families with whom we may not agree on every point. We hear myriad stories of family holiday celebrations rife with discord as the family members loudly and verociously argue their respective points of view. But the person who wrote this Op-Ed piece sounded nothing like my sister. (Yes, I know it was her; she has a very unique name.) I wasn’t at all sure I could like or embrace this person. I didn’t even know if I could have a meal with her, let alone embrace her!

So what happens if you have a family member with whom you really cannot have a relationship because you are diametrically opposed in belief systems? How do you handle such things? For me, it’s easy (I use the term loosely, nothing about losing my sister was easy) in that she won’t talk to me anyway, but in my musing, I wonder what I’d do if she  suddenly offered to come back into my life?

Breaking Bread With Buddhists

The other night we had dinner with friends, one of whom we didn’t know very well. The conversation was engaging, particularly when two of the people began discussing their mutual interest in Buddhism. Both had been practicing for many years. I have a rudimentary (putting it mildly) understanding of Buddhism, which is to say I know almost nothing but find it intriguing. So, I asked for the basic tenets. Carl said it starts with some “rules.” Keep in mind these are my words paraphrasing his explanations and most likely not doing them justice but you’ll get the idea.

First is impermanence, which is to say, nothing lasts forever and/or everything changes. Everything dies, that’s another rule. So, if you get those concepts, everything else in life falls into a category of, in a way, not really important. When my daughter was 3 she referred to unimportant things as “nevermind.” “That’s ‘nevermind’,” she’d reply if you brought up a topic she considered too inconsequential to even discuss. So, Lisa, the other Buddhist breaking bread, said, for example, the  issues my family has been dealing with for the last year and a half as my mother–in-law was dying and my siblings-in-law were scheming to grab all of her assets for their own , in the view of the average enlightened Buddhist would be “nevermind.” (Or as I might less politely put it, bullshit.) In other words, we should have been able to put it all in perspective and let it go without allowing it to pierce our hearts, our souls or our minds, as we did.

That was an epiphany of sorts. Of course I knew the drama the despicable siblings had generated was somewhat insane but I was sorely lacking in the ability to see it for what it was — “nevermind.” Rather, I took it to heart, I suffered great angst, I worried, I schemed ways to stop them, hell I even wrote an entire book as I processed all they had done.

If I were an enlightened Buddhist, would I have done none of those things? While that looks pretty good to me in hindsight, I wonder. If the only thing that matters is that which might actually kill me and come to think of it not even that because as an enlightened person I’d have accepted my death because I know for sure it’s coming, then what would I write about? If everything but death takes on less importance wouldn’t that also make it less interesting to process?

If I could no longer muse on human drama because none of it mattered, would I be happier? Practicing Buddhists appear to be calmer, more peaceful, and more accepting of drama. They don’t seem to need to process in the endless (some might say annoying) way I do. Maybe I wouldn’t be happier but would I be more at peace?

I’m planning to read more about Buddhism. Yesterday Kindle offered a free download of a book called something like “Buddhism for Beginners.” I’m going to read it but I’m not sure I’m going to be more peaceful as a result. In the meantime, I’ll continue breaking bread with interesting people and I’ll probably follow up by processing what they said.

I may not be cut out for Buddhism. If you’d like to comment and explain the many ways I’m wrong about this, go for it. I’ll probably process what you say as well.