But Family Should Just Get Along!: Creating Genuinely Healthy Relationships

“I haven’t spoken with my dad in 10 years,” said Anna, with a flat, mono-tone voice. “What happened?” I asked. “He was a fine dad. He worked two jobs, so he wasn’t around a lot. Teenage years we argued about the normal stuff—boys, drinking, grades. In my twenties I got married to a man my dad didn’t particularly like, although now we’ve been divorced for awhile. Dad never thought he was good enough for me. One Christmas Dad and John drank too much and fought about something…honestly, I can’t remember at this point.” Anna’s voice had dropped almost to a whisper, and a few tears fell. “After that he never visited again, and we slowly stopped talking. I just realized one day that if I didn’t call or visit, he just wouldn’t reach out. So I stopped. The years went on, and the time stretched out, and all of a sudden it’s been a decade.” Anna was silent. “Is that normal?” she asked me.

“My sister tortured me when we were kids,” said Lucy. “She’d get me in trouble with Mom, steal my friends, break my stuff and take my boyfriends. She’s always been a troublemaker.” Lucy’s face was bright red and her voice kept getting louder and louder. “As adults we’d spend holidays together at my folks—birthdays, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, July 4th. She was nice for awhile, but then I had my twins. All of a sudden she starts telling me how to parent! No matter how many times I tell her to shut up, she just keeps going. So I stopped going to holidays. It’s sad; now everyone does their own separate holidays. But I could not handle her telling me what to do with my kids.” At this point Lucy was crying and blowing her nose. “But she’s my sister. I can’t believe after all these years we’re still not talking.”

It can be easy to take family for granted, thinking they’ll always be there. We tend to think kids will “grow out of” challenging sibling behavior or that parents will always want to reach out to their kids. The truth is, like all relationships, family connections take work too. Anna found courage, created a list of points in counseling that she wanted to cover with her dad, and called him up to talk. To move forward she had to decide she was going to be the bigger person, consistently initiate contact and address the issues. Lucy wasn’t ready to talk to her sister, but she did talk with her Mom about beginning to repair the relationship. Her Mom organized a grandchildren day at her house so the kids could start to get to know each other again.

This week let’s all take some time to think about our own families. Who have you not talked to for awhile? Are there any repairs that need to get started? Remember, change happens through taking that first small step forward.