January 10, 2023

Can"t Live With Them, Can't Live Without Them: Family

The just-ended holiday season is often centered on family, relatives, and close friends. That can be the highlight of this time of year, or, it can be stressful, even something you take steps to avoid. Family can be complicated. There is a lifetime of history, memories, good times, and bad.

As we put last year away, at least mentally, it might be interesting, helpful, and even cathartic to learn that their relationship struggles and dynamics are not unique. We have all watched enough Christmas movies to know everything isn't always sugar cookies and smiles.

Let me pose a couple of open-ended questions for you to ponder. Think about all the bits and pieces that have built the entity you call family. How does what happened in the past, what is going on now, and what you think the future will be with those people? 

If you feel like sharing, please do in the comments section. As I noted, many of us have issues that sometimes feel like a boulder in our path. If you have an experience or vivid story to share but would rather not use your name, that is completely understandable. Click "anonymous" and leave your memory.

Others have a relationship with family members that could make a Hallmark movie.  They are your biggest fans and your major support group. The time you spend with them is precious and important. A strong, positive family is the key to who you are.

Ready? Let's start with a biggie: Do you wish you lived closer to family members, or actually long for more distance?

*Which member of your family is your favorite? Why?  Or, on the flip side, which family member drives you nuts? 

*What times in your life would you not have gotten through without the support of family?

*What "wounds" do you continue to deal with that have followed you into today? What can you do about it?

* Would you describe your family as something like The Cleaver family in Leave it to Beaver, the extended dramatic family in Dallas, maybe oddly eccentric like the Addams family, or a mix of characters that has yet to be portrayed?

Trust me, whatever your answers are to any (or all) of these questions, your experiences are shared by many of us.

Unlike most posts, I think it will be most productive if I don't respond to every comment. Each family dynamic is unique. Any thought from me would come from my perspective and that isn't the point.

This should be a fascinating glimpse of the state of familial relationships today.


  1. I don't think either of our families are perfect nor heavily flawed. What is probably more accurate is neither are really evolving to the "next generation" so we still feel pulled in our late 50's/ early 60's to squeeze into what extended family norms of the past were. It's just unrealistic. On his side, it makes more sense since his mom is alive and healthy, but I can't help feeling short changed on the holiday with my immediate family. On my side, most don't have get togethers with their in-laws, so they get a holiday just for their kids and grandkids kids.

  2. We have always lived away from our extended families during our 40 plus years of marriage. For many years we did our best to visit at Christmas, even when it was hard. At this time in our lives we have decided to visit after Christmas Day and before New Years. Sometimes we stay longer than others. Our family dynamic has changed since we have grandchildren now and want to be with them for the actual holiday. My side doesn’t get that, but hubby’s side does. This particular year’s visit was more difficult as both sides had a lot of gripes. The visits weren’t pleasant. I know part was b/c my mom is in assisted living now and the sister in town, who has the greatest burden of her care, was unloading. We stayed with her family. I am sure a lot of your readers can relate to this dynamic. I am limited in helping, since we live several hours away. I do listen to my sister, as I know she needs to vent and our mother is difficult, but am starting to dread our visits.

  3. Ah yes, family. Gotta love 'em the most when annoying as HE##. I'm #5 of 6 kids, parents long gone. There are dozens in the next 3 generations with marriage, divorce and childbirth. We are currently spread across 6 states! We remaining 5 siblings are in 3 states and I wish my sisters were closer. We each want to be where we are so that is highly unlikely as we range age 55-73 now. We have a week-long reunion every 5 years and over 90% attend so we make an effort to be connected. Nearly that many attend any family wedding although we had a drought from 2008-2021. We do OK when gathered for these brief periods. The political divide is a chasm so that topic is mum or there would be screaming and name calling that would never be forgiven.

    As for the in-laws....well......a family fractured by choices, behaviors, lack of discipline, poor decision making and in general much dislike not to mention the dying off of those whom kept it glued together. When hubster declines an invitation, it's tears and "but but". The enabler/enabling is beyond maddening and we refuse to participate and can't respect it especially given the loads of complaints that come from the enablers. (they never see it, right?) "Victims" make choices in this specific role even though they think there is no choice. Over the years I've done check-ins w/hubster. Be sure that when they are gone, you're going to be OK with the decisions you are making. There are no do-overs. Mental Health matters!

    Decades ago hubster and I agreed that "I would do my family and he would do his". I will attend events at his request. We both enjoy my family. Our other agreement is that I am not responsible for his family. I cared for my parents to the end, and specifically a caregiver for Mom which was my choice. I will not be caregiver to his parents who are now mid-80s.

    My wrap-up? Mental Health matters. Make decisions about family that provide self-care too. You have to live with YOU the longest. There are no do-overs.

  4. My heart has been broken over this issue. I grew up with no extended family, all lived in other states, so I looked forward to building a family of my own. My husband and I have three sons altogether, no calls from them ever. Well, one calls when he screws up badly and needs money.

    We have completely missed out on the lives of two granddaughters, because my youngest is holding a 12 year old grudge about something I haven't even figured out. Though, we know the truth is they simply don't want to be bothered with us. However, they built a house in their backyard for HER parents. We try very hard to live happy lives despite this, but November and December always brings on a depression that I can barely cope with. I hold my breath until January.

  5. We live within a few miles of both our grown children and three grandchildren. I love being close because we see them almost daily. On the downside, we are too close to them when they have some minor problem that then becomes our problem. It is small things that they would have to take care of somehow if we lived hours away. I'll take the downside though to be close to them all.

  6. I moved as far away as I could and stay in the same country. Some of my family followed. When we married , we ran to Vegas bc neither of us wanted our family drama . We each received limited support from our families. I went to therapy when things got tough for me and will be eternally grateful to my therapists. The second helped my with EMDR therapy. My siblings are alive and email contact is limited to pics I have stolen from the internet. Both are emotionally immature , the gift that keeps on giving.

  7. My family has been close over the years, celebrating holidays together, etc. As we got older, most of us moved away from our hometown and three of us landed in the same city. We always gathered for holidays and birthdays when our kids were growing up. And our parents visited our city regularly. Now as the next generation has scattered and moved away, that has mostly petered out. Also, two of my brothers got into it over the 2016 election and that dynamic has never really resolved. One brother went through some marital problems and that stirred the pot even more. So overall, as sad as it is, it’s easier for us to not get together with nelthbof them

    1. Ooops. Continuing…with both of them at once. We gather for funerals and weddings, but so far, they haven’t mended their fences enough to make it comfortable to all be together for any length of time. It’s disappointing, but hubby and I prefer to avoid the strained situations as we age and just deal with our own kids and grands.

    2. I should also add that hubby has never been close to his two sisters, and after their mom died (during Covid), we have not seen them except on Facebook.

  8. A quick note from Bob: these stories and the different ways we do or do not interact with family and relatives has been tremendously insightful.

    We see that family relationships are certainly not one size fits all.

    Keep the comments coming. There is so much to share and learn.

  9. The invitation to write about family with your prompts made me think, Wow, this could be a can of worms. Family is fraught with emotion, obligation, history. Most of us learn how to function in a family by watching those around us; generational trial by fire sometimes. It seems we're either living up to the family name or living it down. The standards of group function and norms are put to the test. I have a friend who says - What, you shared a womb and you're supposed to be best friends? Family isn't always defined by blood relation. Family - it can be more work and more wonderful than you can imagine.