“Families are to be from.” This was a wry quip from a high school student of mine in the early 80’s when a sociology class discussion about families was wrapping up. This young lady was grasping the complexity of family relationships even at her young age, recognizing poignantly that one needs to extricate oneself at some point in life from the familial orbit. This is usually done with the normal developmental process as young people reach maturity, seek a mate, marry, have children, and begin a family of their own. But sometimes even then the emotional ties with the family of origin will be inordinate and, one or both of the marital partners will not have “cut the cord” and complications will develop.
The family is a primary dimension of social life. Family structure is the template in which a child finds his place and learns how to “find his place” in the family at large, i.e. the community, and eventually even in the world “family.” The family is where connection is established, and explored, and the skills…or lack thereof…will be offered in the social body. The anchor of the family is the mother and father and if their relationship is not stable, or insincere, then the children will not have a stable basis upon which to find their roots in the family dynamic. A college psychology professor of mine, decades ago, noted that for a child it is more important for a child to know that his parents love each other than that the parents love him. For the connection between “mommy and daddy” provide an anchor for an inchoate identity and from that anchor will arise a knowledge of parental love that is not prosaic or formulaic. The script always includes “mommy and daddy love me” but the nuances of the family dynamic, based on the connection between “mommy and daddy” often convey otherwise.
But let me close this grim assessment with a positive note. The human soul is indomitable. Most families provide what British psychiatrist Donald W. Winnicott described as “good enough ‘parenting’” (his term was “good enough ‘mothering’”). If parenting were perfect, then children would get a naive impression life is about and would be ill-equipped to face that “thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to.” And a facetious note is here in order. My children are perfect! That is because my “children” are only whims and fancies of what might have been, whims and fancies that I pine for, but have never experienced. That is because I never had the courage to take that important plunge into the “dog-and-pony show” of this human endeavor and father children, trusting that Life is good and that all would be well. But I firmly believe that “there is a destiny that doeth shape our ends, rough hew them as we may” and that all is well in the end. Yes, even with this current political maelstrom that is gnawing at the soul of my country.