The Grey Shades of Family

Family. The importance and influence of family around the world, especially in a close knit culture like India, is well known and documented especially through movies, TV shows, books etc. But more often than not, the importance of family is portrayed in a ‘always positive’ , ‘thicker than blood’, ‘no questions asked’ sort of a way. Family is important, especially how they can impact you both positively and negatively. You heard that right. There can be a negative impact of family. We normally see family relations portrayed in two extremes by media – very close knit, always hanging out with parents, siblings, normal arguments here and there that turn into laughter moments over the dinner table. OR, abusive families. And with abusive families who negletct or torture their kids, its easy to understand their harted or dislike towards the family. Simple. However, there is a massive grey area that many of us don’t see or discuss as often as normal. You can be far from close with your family, even if they never tortured or abused or yelled or did anything evil to you. And sometimes, only those who have lived in this grey area, can understand it.

The Grey

Growing up, I wasn’t super close with my parents in the traditional sense. And I am still not. Many of my friends talk about the importance their’s parents’ viewpoints have in their decision making and how they would never answer back or talk rudely etc. Mine has been and still is the opposite scenario. I describe my relationship with my mother as one that is kind of close but not on the same level ideologically and with my dad as ‘civil’ but i grew up fighting and arguing (verbal and physical’) a lot with him. We don’t sit down for dinners together. We say few words to each other the whole day, we live quite independently in a shared house. When I moved to the UK as an 18 year old, home sickness didn’t really hit me. If I didn’t talk to them for a week, that was fine by me. And to an extent, with them as well. That didn’t mean we hate each other or won’t be there for each other when shit goes down. Its neither Salman Khan nor Aman Verma from Baghban.
It was hard for me to connect with those students who missed their mums and dads dramatically or would need their permission to do certain things in life. The worst part was that whenever I spoke of my family dynamics, their looks made me uncomfortable. Because after all, not being close to your family has always been showcased as a negative thing in media around us. If I ever was found shouting with any of my parents over the phone over something, the response I would get from friends was “how can you argue with them, its your parents”. It was difficult for them to understand and for me to explain that I grew up in a very different dynamic.

I didn’t celebrate Raksha Bandhan this year even though my families on both ends have a plethora of cousins. I’ve never been close to a single one of them. Every other year, we were forced to meet up by our parents who would plan the family lunch for us. We’ve had such different lifestyles and personalities, and with some, every time we meet up it’s an environment of judgmental snarky comments and passive aggressive behaviour. My mother and her siblings don’t even talk anymore. My dad, who was raised to believe in a close knit connection to family, would always make my mom feel bad for how she and her siblings didn’t get along. He would make me feel horrible for not making more effort to connect with my cousins, because even if we don’t get along, we’re family and have to somehow. It took years of fighting and getting over this guilt of not being close to them to finally make peace with it. It is hard to explain how I felt better off without having to force relationships with cousins I don’t get along with and same for my mother who doesn’t talk to her siblings.

I Wasn’t Alone

It took me years to realise that I wasn’t alone in such a dynamic. Over the years, I’ve had friends who’ve opened up to me about their families and the negative and positive impact they’ve had on their conditioning, mental health and psyche. A lot of my anxiety stems from the sort of family environment I grew up in. At a young age of 11 or 12, I had become my mum’s agony aunt for everything related from family members suing each other in court or her issues with my dad.
For some, trust issues come from seeing the disharmony in the married life of their parents, even if the parents shower you with love on the surface. Some have such massive ideological differences with their parents and siblings that living under the same roof means constant fights and disagreements. Some had massively passive aggressive fathers growing up, who gaslight the past so smoothly that it impacts their present relationships. Sometimes the impact they have doesn’t stem from their relationship with you alone. It could also stem from their relationship with each other or some third party.

I have met people who have low self confidence because of words uttered by their own parents. Many try to tell them that “oh parents always mean well or its out of love.” But only that individual knows what those words and environment has done to their mental health and their view towards the world and themselves.

I’ve heard friends say how it would be better for their parents to just get divorced or get separated. Or how they can’t stand to live in the same house as their siblings. For me, these statements don’t surprise me or shock me, for I have been in similar situations. But for many, i’ve seen the look of disbelief when they see children talking like this about their own parents.

I have friends who would never cancel or alter family commitments for their friends. Then I have friends who would do so in a heartbeat. Some are also just looking for a way to spend less time with family as well at times. And for the latter two, its so difficult to discuss these things without feeling the pressure of being judged as a bad human being. I mean, if your family isn’t evil or abusive, why would you not want to be close with them? Isn’t that too individualistic or selfish? But then, why are those two things necessarily bad?

Nobody comes and tells us that this is normal and you are not alone. Your parents are not gonna have a black and white impact on you. You see, because we believe that family is meant to be in sync and harmony, that you’re suppose to call them ‘your lifelines’, ‘your world’ like many other on social media do, you tend to live in denial of the problems, engaging in surface level bliss which the world can approve of. Nobody comes and tells us that your relationship with your parents or siblings can be dysfunctional or even toxic. They don’t have to be evil or abusive, but the pure clash of personalities, ideologies, lifestyles etc can be enough to have some negative impact on you. Even if there isn’t a negative impact per se, you still don’t feel close to them in the traditional sense. You can still love or like your family but not want to be close to them or place their existence at the centre of your universe.

You don’t get to choose your family members. Nobody would judge you or force you to connect with a friend or make you feel bad if you don’t get along with some people. Sometimes, certain relationships in life, whether it be friendships or families, can do more harm than good. And sometimes, its not about them doing harm but just you not being in some harmonious sync bliss with them. And that is fine. Parents or relatives are not reincarnations of god, despite the god like treatment and pedestal they’re put on in their portrayal around. Many out there see their family as faulty human beings who you could live in peace with, like many do with different personlaities or sometimes its just difficult to get along no matter how hard you try.

If you come across someone who doesn’t have the traditional family dynamic, isn’t close to their family but still loves and respects them or maybe even hates them, please don’t judge them. Don’t try to compare your family to theirs and try to justify situations that you never had to face. Don’t negate the impact their family might have had on them just because you’ve never seen or heard of negative impact like that before. Just be empathetic and open to the idea that certain families or familial relationships can be negative or toxic or just not healthy per se without being abusive or evil in the conventional way.

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