If one drills down below the frenzy of materialism that is Christmas in this late capitalism world, you find sentiments of a thankfulness for family. I have often thought when some pundit extols  the wonders of family values, “Hasn’t that person ever had one?” Families are messy things. They are bundles of neuroses, quirks, chance, selfishness, unselfishness, secrets, denied longings, self confidence building, confidence destroyers, love, and arguments. In short they are humanity in a nutshell. All families seem to be loving in their own ways although we wouldn’t call some such. Most are hotbeds of unconditional love although some are hotbeds of indifference at best. I was one of the lucky ones growing up in a family that loved me fiercely, taught me I could do anything, constantly encouraged me, and kept the quirks and neuroses down to a minimum that I could easily deal with.

The older I get the more I realize that not all had grown up that way. It is more than whether one had one or two parents, more than if the gender of your parents was the same or different. Not all families or family values are positive things and even when they are positive  they are not unmitigated “good things.” They can do us irreparable harm as well as incalculable good. Given they way our neural networks are set up, the variety in the circumstances we face, and the unlooked for people we encounter along the way, it could hardly be otherwise. Families are the cocoons in which we develop, the first places where we learn about the world as well as ourselves. We learn from our families not only from the things they say but even more from the things they do. We are probably hard wired to do so. If the things we learn are about hatred of others for whatever reasons, they are not good things. If our cocoon gives us a false idea of the world outside and our role in it, it is not a good thing. If it teaches us we are intrinsically better or worse than other people, it is not a good thing. If it teaches us to think only about ourselves and not to give of ourselves to other people, it is not a good thing. If it teaches us that the only good people in the world are ones who look or speak like us, it is not a good thing. If it teaches us that the world is all good or all bad, it is not a good thing.

Families are part of the minefield of growing up, but they can be part of the ways of finding your way through the world long after you reach adulthood. Siblings can become best friends or at least “frenemies.” Parents can become role models or guides at each stage of your life as can aunts, uncles, cousins, or even fictive kin.   I am just saying that they didn’t have to be.  Good family relationships are based on love, goodwill, selflessness, hard work, and an element of chance. They are not the absolutely affirmative or constructive relationships  that politicians preach and there are certainly more positive configurations of family than the one way conservatives posit. However, they have the potential to be enormously fulfilling and I feel the work I have done as a parent is probably the best thing I have done. I hope your family relations are indeed positive and if they are please don’t take them for granted.  It didn’t have to be that way so appreciate and count your blessings.

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