"Family Stuff....Welcome Home!"




"Family Stuff....Welcome Home!"


By

L.T.Force, Ph.D.

Gerontologist

One of the points I stress to my students - when I teach clinical courses is: “Not every family looks like yours”. This is an important point to remember when you are working with families. The other thing I tell my students, and I tell my clients, is: “Everybody has stuff!” In fact, what I have found across time is::

" if a client or family comes in and they look too good - that concerns me". Because, what I have found across time is: “If it looks too good....it probably isn’t!” And you know why...."because we all have stuff!"

We all come from somewhere. We all have experiences and a history. Regardless of how it looks - we all have been exposed to a: "constellation of individuals....called family". Some of those families are: blended....some merged....some intact....some fragmented....some close.....some distant....some large....some small....some fun....some quiet....some loud.....some full of heart....some very empty....some provide support....and some provide the feel of being upside down on a ferris wheel . Regardless of how your family system looks and feels - we all started somewhere.

What do we know about families? "We know when families work....they really work....and when families don’t work....they really don’t work". We also know that our expectations of what families are about - are dictated by what we have witnessed in our own family system. I remember, one time working as a consultant for an Assisted Living facility. Most of the people lived in shared rooms. One woman in particular had family visitors streaming in and out....her dresser was inundated with intergenerational pictures of family members. However, her roommate did not have one picture of a family member on her dresser - and she had no visitors. I asked the staff what was the situation here - and I spoke with the patient about her family. For example, was she ever married, is she a widow, number of children, number of grandchildren....and where does everybody live? She told me - she was a widow - she has two daughters - one grandchild - and one of the daughters lives about 5 miles from the Assisted Living facility. I was taken by this information. Here she had family....she had family living in close proximity....and no one came to see her - even on the holidays. I asked the staff to please contact the daughter - as I would like to set a time to meet with her. The meeting was set-up for an evening during the following week.

Obviously, I called for the meeting with this woman’s daughter - because: "what I was witnessing violated my own expectation of what family does in being present for aging parents". The daughter showed up....we met....I told her my concerns about her family not being present for her mother. The daughter listened intently to what I was saying and then she provided me with an answer as to why she and the rest of the family were not present for this woman. She told me of all of the abuse and neglect she experienced across her childhood....she told me how her mother had abandoned her - and was emotionally distant and cruel to both her, her sister and the grandchild. I understood. I also realized I had violated my own belief system: “not every family looks likes yours” and here I was.... making judgments and comparisons based on my own experiences of rallying around an elderly parent in need.

What is the take-away message? The take-away is: “we all have stuff.....and not every family looks like yours”. The other take-away message: "if you are looking for the ideal family....understand it doesn’t exist.....and if you think it does....wake-up....it’s an illusion....because if it looks too good....it probably isn’t". And the final take-away is.... Welcome Home! and now figure out what works best for you....as they say: "take the best...leave the rest"....and then give yourself a hug....you need it.....and you deserve it.

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