Can’t live with them…

Family relationships can be the cause of much anxiety – petty rivalries in our childhood relationships can so easily extend into adulthood. Of course I am talking from experience; my own family drive me nuts. My brothers, all four of them, banter with and tease me as though we were all still teenagers. The competitiveness between me and the oldest of my brothers is beyond a joke, despite my better judgement.

As we get older and create families of our own these rivalries may take a back seat in our lives but they still exist to rear their ugly heads when family members gather; Christmas quarrels are an expectation with my family what with hangovers, tension from dealing with the kids, unwanted gifts etc. Added to this stress, once we are adults with spouses and long term partners, we may have their family situations to deal with too. Although my husband’s family all seem to get on famously between themselves – there must be something wrong with them! That’s not to mention rivalry among our own children. It is no wonder we are so fretful about families.

So given that our families are so fraught, what is it that compels us to watch programs about families? Read books where family situations are the central theme? As a nation we are fascinated by other families’ gossip, but why? Bacause we may not like to admit it but we love to hear about other family issues, whether it be our friends, neighbours, on the TV, in books, radio – that’s why Radio 4’s The Archers is so popular (although not with me – I cant abide the whinging that goes on. My husband, loves it and I have to endure a whole 15 minutes of it if we’re both in the car, much longer if it’s the omnibus edition! But that’s another story.

And it’s not just The Archers, other programmes of the same ilk – Coronation Street, Eastenders, Neighbours even, all have one thing in common, they are about family rivalry, and it makes us feel better about our own. Personality I prefer watching things like Supernanny because then you get the kids’ behavioural issues as well as the husband/wife discord all thrown into one programme – bonus! By hearing about other families it makes us think that there may not be such a problem with our own after all.

Psychologist Linda Blair believes we are interested in other families because they make us feel more secure about our own. I certainly feel that way when watching Supernanny.

There is no longer such a thing as a normal family; step families, same gender families, extended families are more frequent now and therefore the lines are more blurred when it comes to how a ‘normal’ family should be. Maybe as a result we feel more insecure about whether we are doing the right thing by our family. Also, there are many theories as to how a family should operate, co-exist and how family dynamics rule our lives that we are perhaps a little afraid of stepping outside our comfort zone, rocking the familial boat for fear of getting into the realms of family dysfunction, hence our desire to see how other people manage it.

Families can unearth all kinds of emotions in us – mine, for instance can bring up feelings whereby I want to disown all of them. I’m sure some of my family members must feel the same about me. But if any one of them were to become ill then I know that the whole family would rally round to make sure the afflicted was well taken care of. How can family invoke such conflicting feelings?

Of course there are families that suffer no such discord, but there are others that take things a little too far. A friend’s husband is estranged from his sister because of a contentious issue with their father’s will and although one could not predict if illness would bring them back together again, his sister has recently had a child but the brother has still had no contact and is perfectly prepared to have nothing to do with her or her children. So much so that he is prepared to ignore the fact that they exist and will go to lengths to erase that part of the family from even his own children’s minds. I’m guessing he must have his reasons. There are times when I don’t talk to certain members of my family for months on end but I don’t think we would ever go that far, although as I’m not in that position I can’t really say what would happen.

One thing I do know though is that my family is my family, no one else’s. They may have their faults and they may drive me to distraction but at the end of the day I don’t think I would want them to be any other way – that may be the biggest cliché in the history of familykind but it’s true.