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  • Writer's pictureJulie Love


From the Archive: December 2019

So, how was your Thanksgiving? We tend to picture the holiday as either a Norman Rockwell idyll, or a torturous ordeal of being forced to associate with people we’d never even meet if not obliged by genetic happenstance. But for most people, the reality is somewhere in between. We look forward to reunions, yet often find ourselves wondering “Who are these people? And how do they make me feel so tiny?”

“The family is the first essential cell of human society.” (Pope John XXIII) We generally think of families as the unit that raises children. But it’s more than that – families raise people. I don’t just mean that kids are people too – I mean that “raising” is a life long process, not limited to childhood. Members of a family raise each other – help each other grow, throughout life, into who they are. Of course when we’re talking about the other adults in our family, or the relationships between the children, we call it “loving” and “supporting,” not “raising.” We tend to view raising as a very specific task, a very active task – guiding, steering, molding, creating. “Making him/her the man/woman they are today.”

All parents dream of their coming child, imagining the sort of person they will grow up to be. It’s natural, anticipating your role as a parent, like an artist anticipating their long-awaited dream to create the most beautiful painting they can imagine. And then their child arrives, and the Universe gives them… a lump of clay. Many parents have a hard time adjusting, and poke the clay sadly while bemoaning the painting that should have been. Others insist the clay must really be paint deep down inside, and proceed as planned, smearing it on a canvas and telling it to try harder to make a pretty picture. But some parents love the clay, and realize that a sculpture is just as beautiful as a painting.

We are all clay, born to people who expected to be painters. We are also sculptors, especially of the children in our lives (but also the adults – friends, family, colleagues, and ourselves), encouraging the clay to discover the work of art buried inside it. Hopefully we are patrons of the arts as well, admiring and supporting the beauty around us.

As we head into the mad dash that is the Festive Holiday Season, recognize that expectations for the holiday can compound these expectations of who everyone ought to be. We all feel the pressure to live up to an idealized version of ourselves fitting into our idealized version of a family. As adults, we can push back against this pressure from a solid sense of self. We may at times slip into our insecure childhood identities, but our personal and professional achievements can reassure us that we’ve turned out okay after all, and the older we get, the more our family includes people we have invited into our lives, making the opinions of those we didn’t get to choose slightly less weighty. Comments can still sting, but are less likely to wound us.

Unfortunately the kids we work with often don’t have such protection. They have little say, if any, about who is added to their family, and if those around them tell them they are intrinsically disappointing, they are quite likely to absorb that insult as a fact. If the family they were dealt isn’t particularly interested in raising them, preferring to tear them down instead, children usually assume they are the ones failing to be what they should be, rather than the family. We all know kids in situations like this – with enough abuse to hurt, but not enough to justify intervention. Well, that depends on the intervention. There’s always something we can do.

Love them. Admire who they are. Let them know that a sculpture, especially one that is somehow managing to carve itself, is a miraculous thing, and you feel honored to have the gift of witnessing it. Show them that true families do exist, even for them. “The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other’s life.” (Richard Bach)

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