Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The holidays: a time for musing about 'family values'

This morning, I have been puzzling about the priority that should be given to ‘family’ in one’s life. Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, times set aside for family gatherings, always bring up this question.

For some, ‘family values’ (whatever those values may be) have been inculcated from birth. My own upbringing was different. My mother, the strongest influence in my life during formative years was traumatized by her parents divorce when she was a young teen-ager. Divorce is commonplace now. In 1928 it was rare and stigmatized. When I was growing up, as an inquisitive only child, I puzzled over the fact that my mother never spoke to her father and forbade any contact with him. If I sought out my grandfather, she said, she would cut me off. Family members are no different than others, she taught me. If they treat you badly, you should have nothing further to do with them.

In fact, what family therapists term ‘cut offs’ were a pervasive reality in her life. When mother died. She was estranged from her father, her mother and her brothers. We had rarely spoken for many years, though we later reconciled. The possibility of being “cast into outer darkness” was an every present reality in my family. My own family therapist who began our consultations by taking an extended family history said my family had more ‘cut offs’ than any she had ever experienced in her years of practice.

It was years later, when I was in my late 40s, that I first experienced the concept of unconditional love as a reality. The experience was overwhelming; one of the most powerful and memorable of my life. Unconditional love is supposed to be a fundamental family value, though I believe it is experienced rarely either in families or committed relationships, It is not something to be taken for granted. Perhaps this is why one definition of what is fundamental about God is ‘unconditional love.’

From these musings, readers will see why for me “family values” are a domain of questions rather than answers. This can be disquieting, as are most fundamental questions, but also useful. What we do not take for granted, we tend to examine more deeply. Perhaps this may lead to deeper understanding of what is fundamentally important.


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