My parents grew up in the middle of the last century, in very different suburbs of very different Californian cities. Both families suffered tragedies of different sorts, both struggled with deep and fundamentally irresolvable interpersonal conflicts. Both were, at times, powerfully unhappy. But the image that each presented to the world was as close to the Ozzie and Harriet ideal as they could manage, because that was what was expected of them.
Now, of course, we accept that families are more varied. Blended families, same-sex couples, lone parents, multiracial marriages (or, indeed, people of color at all): all these previously invisible families are now part of our ordinary landscape. So are unhappy families, of course: Jerry Springer, Oprah and Judge Judy have seen to that. But there are still these expectations about what it means to be in, or from, a dysfunctional family, and those can be as damaging as the complete denial of family troubles at all.
I don’t agree with Tolstoy that happy families are all alike, but it’s certainly true that every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. I think we need to give more space for that idea in our society, and for the varied ways that such unhappiness leaves its marks on people.
Making Light regulars will know that September 21 is Dysfunctional Families Day, when we give some space for those in our community whose families were, in each of their distinct and different ways, unhappy. We’ve done it twice before, and it’s my intention to continue the tradition as long as it seems worth doing.
As usual, anonymous comments are welcome in this thread. Not everyone wants their everyday identity linked with the most painful stories of their childhoods. Remember that the Making Light (view all by) functionality is keyed by email address; change that as well as your name to be anonymous. To avoid confusion among different anonymous commenters, it’s useful to create a spoofed email address using your chosen anonymous name.
Also as usual, I will be patrolling the thread with extra attention, cleaning up email address mistakes and ensuring that this is a safe space for difficult discussions