Letting go of the idea of the perfect family

As attached as we might be to the idea of the "perfect family", one can't help wondering if such a family exists. After all, being in a family means having to deal with what feels like layer upon layer of imperfection ... disappointment, frustration, unfairness and loss. Experience is clearly trying to teach us that no person is perfect, no situation is perfect ‐ever!  It’s usually a mixture of perfect and imperfect. 

In coming to terms with imperfection, intentional families understand that perfection is not a requirement for happiness. In fact, things can be very imperfect in what might be thought of culturally as the ‘ideal happy family.’ Sometimes it’s even because of the so called ‘imperfections’ that joy arises. 

One of my favourite authors, Glennon Doyle Melton, in her book Carry on, Warrior coined the phrase Brutiful. Brutiful is a combination of the words beautiful and brutal and in the word brutiful Glennon highlights that life can be both beautiful and brutal all at the same time. I find it incredibly comforting that I can name things as hard, burdensome and in fact brutal while talking about something as beautiful as my family and my marriage. It gives me permission to be honest and authentic and to feel proud of my beautiful family in all its messy glory. 

The burden of having to be perfect or appear perfect can be a very heavy one. I’d encourage you to let it go entirely. Instead, as an intentional family, focus on health, wholeness and joy and cultivate choices that lead to these things. This brings me to the idea of difference between a healthy family and a happy one. It might sound a little weird to think that there could be a difference between healthy and happy - perhaps I sound like I'm splitting hairs. So let me explain the difference. 

Firstly, a happy family is one that is based on circumstances being generally favourable or at least looking that way. A happy family is sometimes achieved through keeping up appearances, keeping all our problems, old wounds, struggles and pain safely tucked away and out of sight. 

Sometimes, in order to be happy, we have to let go of being real. Sometimes that means the identity of individuals in the family have to be suppressed, or a vexing problem has to be ignored and shoved back under the rug. It takes a lot of energy to keep all those ducks in a row, but if 'happy' is our goal for our family, then that's what we will do.  

However, if our goal is to be a healthy family, it means sometimes our family or at least one or two people at any given time, won't necessarily be happy. Healthy means our family is growing, evolving, alive and dynamic. 

When something is alive and growing it won't always look pretty and it won't always be happy. If you sit a real plant next to a fake plant one of the easiest ways to tell the difference between the two is that the 'real' plant will have imperfections, it will shed leaves, it will need care and attention but it's alive and can grow and even reproduce into another plant. None of those things will happen with the lovely fake pot plant sitting on your desk. 

The "happy family" might need less maintenance and be less messy but it's not alive, growing and becoming the next thing it's meant to become. It's not allowed to be dynamic and show all its colours and dimensions. Each member of the family knows this either implicitly or explicitly. 

Now, I'm not saying that your family can't be both happy and healthy. It just means the 'shoulds', 'gottas', and 'musts' that we 'have to' be happy can be put to rest. Happiness has a place, along side sadness, tension, failure, anxiety, forgiveness, repair, growth, silliness, joy, fun, and struggle.

Healthy families do not labour under the strain of presenting as happy and all together all the time. Because let's face it, no family is truly happy all the time - intact, first, step, blended, fostering, same-sex, single-parent, couple no-kids, and every other family type you can imagine. So let's focus on being a real, messy, growing, healthy family and all the brutiful things that this involves.

Posted on 16 June 2017 in - Library - Family and Parenting

Marcia Watts

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