Was Yours a “Normal” Family?
When I was growing up I thought TV programs like “Father Knows Best,” “Ozzie and Harriet,” and “Leave It to Beaver” were models of normal families.
- The dad worked regular, daytime hours Monday thru Friday.
- The mom stayed home, kept the house clean, baked cookies, volunteered at school.
- There were two or three children.
- There was a dog and perhaps a cat or a pet bird in a cage.
- No one had a disability or major illness.
- No one was dealing with addiction.
- There were no major money concerns.
My family only partially followed the model.
- While there were two parents in the home my dad was in middle management for an airline with his hours and the days he worked changing every week.
- Mom was at home but wasn’t the typical stay-at-home mom. She had five daughters and one son (who died when he was one month old).
- I was the middle of the sisters, who were spread out over fifteen years. We were only all at home together for a short time and didn’t really get to know each other until after we were all adults.
- Over the years we had both dogs and cats although I remember more of the cats.
Some of our differences from other families in the neighborhood included:
- After our brother, who was the youngest, died, Mom turned to alcohol as one of the ways she dealt with her pain.
- Growing up we were exposed to many different experiences. A benefit of my dad’s job was the opportunity to fly to different cities, and even countries, on vacation.
- As we were growing up Mom would share many different philosophies with us. We learned to value parts of every major world religion while most of our friends knew only about the church they grew up in. She also shared her deep interest in metaphysics – a topic that even now is considered to be woo-woo by many people.
There were many things I didn’t talk much about (or at all) that happened at home when I was a child. As an adult I learned the term “a dysfunctional family” was frequently used to describe what I grew up in.
It was long after we left home that the sisters would share with each other what our own experience at home had been like. We had some similarities and many differences. We sometimes laugh that we grew up in totally different families. Same house, parents with the same names, yet very different experiences.
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It took me years before I was able to share any of my family history with close friends. Even more time passed before I was able to share with people I hadn’t known forever. As I started to share I learned that I wasn’t alone in being the child of an alcoholic.
I was no longer the lone outsider. I learned there were other people who had had similar experiences. And who had been hesitant to share with others because they were sure no one else would understand.
Learning that it is safe to share my inner thoughts and “hidden” experiences has opened many doors for me. As I share more of my experiences and my reactions to them, a bridge of trust is built between myself and others. We are all more open to working together whether on a community or church project or in a coach and client relationship.
* * * * *
Through the years as I have gotten to know more about my friends I have made the discovery that no one I know grew up in a family that mirrors the tv models of my childhood. I’ve learned that we can grow from all sorts of experiences.
Addiction, single parents, only child, multiple generations in the same household. Different situations each with the same result – family members who felt isolated from each other and from the world. And who were taught as a child that it’s not polite or appropriate to hang your dirty laundry out where others can see it.
Did your family as a child resemble the “normal” family shown on tv in the past? Or would the term dysfunctional apply to your childhood family or the one you live in now? Was it a mixture of the dysfunctional and the positive? What might you have learned from each part?
You will find that sharing what goes on within the walls of your home – whether you start with baby steps or tell a little more – will reduce your fear in all situations and will open doors for you as it did for me. It will help you see the whole of what your childhood was like and let you reclaim the positives while healing the hard parts.
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