family time

heading home

This is a family time of year, we are told, as if the nostalgic rosy-eyed view of family could be sold along with the tinsel and this year’s must-have electronic gadget. But what is family? A family is fluid, a river you can’t step in twice. Family dynamics are like skating on thin ice. Family is history and baggage and years of trying to fit a square peg into a round hole (or the other way around). Family is one slippery word; from Norman Rockwell to Mommy Dearest, it carries a boat-load of expectations too easily shipwrecked on the shoals of life.

Christmas can be a difficult time, family wise. We spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with my parents. After staying away for so many years, I am delighted to be home again, but now my brothers are staying away instead. This is family. Over the past four days, my partner’s son and his long-time girlfriend have been visiting us from Montreal. Spending time with this young couple who are so obviously in love reminds me of the magic that happens when people truly care for each other. This, too, is family.

Those who no longer have family find this time of year difficult as well. In a family-centric society, what could be worse than spending the holidays alone? Yet being alone may be better than spending time with a family that does not love you. That’s why we have friends. My friends have been there for me when I really needed them. And isn’t that, after all, what family is all about?

Photo taken on December 29, 2010


10 thoughts on “family time

  1. What a wonderful post! Family is indeed very fluid.

    In my native tongue, Swedish, the word family [familj] has a different significance than here in North America. Talking about ‘family’ in Swedish only refers to the nuclear family — spouse and kids. So, when I first got here, and people started asking me if I had family back in Sweden, that caused for some confusion.

    Now, I’ve tried both worlds. I’ve had ‘nuclear family’ for Christmas, I’ve been all alone (but not lonely). The years I was living as a single, many people felt sorry for me and I got all kinds of invitations, even though I was perfectly happy being on my own. In my work place (that I mentioned in my post today), we often got to see the results of ‘family time’ at Christmas, so that made me feel even more comfortable with just my own company.

    • Thanks for your comment on the word “family”, Rebekah. You have made an interesting point about the difference between the nuclear family and the extended family. When I lived in Toronto, where the population is always in transition, many people I knew didn’t have extended family nearby, so I would say the nuclear family unit seems to be much more dominant in large urban areas. Yet, taking my own family as an example, where my aunt in Fairfield lives with most of her children and family living very close by, it seems that in rural areas the extended family is much more important.

      I have read somewhere that society is in transition right now between the two types of family groups, but — when you consider the effects of migration and wars in previous generations, when people would leave for other countries or continents and you might never see them again — I think the idea of family has always been flexible. Maybe what is different now is that the world is so small that there is no longer any reason to be out of touch with your extended family, unless you choose to, and that’s where guilt and regret come into the equation!

  2. As the saying goes, you can pick your friends but you can’t pick your relatives! Families can include some pretty prickly characters who you would not otherwise associate with. My Mom wasn’t above holding us all hostage with threats that she wouldn’t come for Christmas if we didn’t do (insert whatever she was on about at the moment here). Her behaviour really could add a lot of tension to the day.

    I like that Christmas (after all the preparatory rush) offers a day or two to just relax and be together, something we might not otherwise make time for.

    • When I first read your comment, Sheridan, it reminded me of a person (who shall remain unnamed) who has tried that kind of emotional blackmail on me, and I got all steamed up just thinking about it. Now that I have cooled down again, I realize how grateful I am that my own parents have tried so very hard to let us have our own space and make our own decisions without that kind of manipulation. Christmas, particularly now that I am older, is turning out to be a very thankful season!

  3. Sometimes blog surfing can help you find some real treasures. I have a feeling that your blog may become one of them.

    This entry struck pretty close to home for me, as my family is all gone now. Only one old Aunt in Virginia knew me as a child, and she is living happily in the 1950’s now, so I am still that child to her.

    But, I’ve always been a loner, and being alone doesn’t faze me. I enjoy my own company, most of the time. Plus, I have the requisite “few good friends” who are just as precious to me as my family was. So, difficult the holidays may be, but they still bring joy, different as it is these days.

    I think I’m going to enjoy getting to know you, and your “Tin Can Beach.”

    • What a wonderful surprise to find your comment, Louise! Welcome to Tin Can Beach!

      If you are able to live alone without being lonely, you have a true gift. While I do spend a lot of time happily rummaging about in my “inner world”, I have to admit that I am not good on my own, and I suppose I could easily become one of those needy clingy people if I didn’t have a wonderful life partner to keep me sane. It’s good that Christmas has room for family and community and friends, as well as long nights of reflection and solitary walks in the snow.

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