Focus on one-on-one relationships in the family
Q: I come from a big, close family, which I'm starting to see could be intimidating for a newcomer — lots of politics, people you can trust and people you can't, people to protect, secrets, la la la.
Some of my siblings have married people who don't seem to understand the rules of the family, like loyalty, compassion, inclusion, discretion, etc. Is it the married sib's responsibility to come across with "rules" (for lack of a better word) about what we kids have been taught about family relationships?
What happens if there's disagreement about what's expected? I am an unmarried sibling in this picture, and the changes in my family are freaking me out. This is not about petty stuff: I have two sisters-in-law in particular who look down on two of my brothers with pronounced contempt because they have problems with drugs and alcohol. These sisters-in-law act as if the brothers are not even part of the family.
Their husbands, my brothers, don't really act that way, but they don't resist their wives' behavior, either. Should I do something?
A: I have a hunch all of you could benefit from a few rounds of minding your own business. It's so strong a hunch, it's starting to twitch.
There's "close" in the sense that you keep up with, support and show a general loving indulgence toward each other, and there's "close" in the sense of adhering to a rigid sense of how family "should be" and of policing those who have the temerity to live their own way.
The former stays together largely by gravity, like a planet, except the pull at the center comes from love. The latter is held in place from the outside, with a steel cage.
It can be hard to know when you're caged. Some signs to look for are family members who move far away and never come back; those who stay and struggle with substance abuse (i.e., they escape on the inside); and those who marry dominant/domineering people, thereby getting someone strong enough to yank them away from the domineering person (steel cage) in the family.
If you see a resemblance to Family Type 2, not 1, then I think that's already the most important step you can take: getting as close as you can, realistically, to taking an objective view of this "intimidating" mass.
Next, I would propose a live-and-let-live stance. Your responsibility to this family is not to the family, but to each individual bond you have with each family member. Nurture those one-on-one relationships. It's never one person's job to keep a whole family intact.
Do the best you can and don't dwell on negativity
Q: It seems that everywhere I turn these days there's bad news — food shortages, rising gas prices, etc. — and it's really starting to get me down. How do you deal with things when there's so much negativity out there?
Blahs and More Blahs
A: Cultivate your little patch of earth the best you can, and, if you have energy to spare at the end of the day, pitch in on someone else's.
If it helps to hold hands and sing Kumbaya, that's fine too.