Maybe it’s controversial to say so, but no, I don’t think you have to like your family.
I always wanted to have one of those types of families where all the cousins are friends and the whole extended family gets together all the time. You see it sometimes in movies, usually portrayed as being a family of certain ethnicities.
My sister’s husband comes from a family like that. I know she wishes that our family were more like that and often she felt we were showing disinterest in their lives if we weren’t as involved as her in-laws were. A good example of that is going to her kids’ many sports games. It’s not something that we (neither me nor my parents) did frequently, which she felt meant we weren’t interested in her kids.
At the same time, I also know that her in-laws sometimes drive her crazy because they spend too much time together. Perhaps the more hands-off approach of my family of origin rubbed off on her more than she wants to admit.
I get it, I do. The only way to build those relationships is to invest the time. And in that regard, I realize I’m more like my parents than I wanted to admit for a long time. My husband’s family is also more like mine, although he has a closer relationship with his sister than I do with mine. But neither of us come from families that spend a lot of time together.
With my family, it’s a combination of almost overly wanting to respect each other’s space (to the point of sometimes looking disinterested) and being highly introverted people who have set routines. For a long time, I found that hurtful about my own family until I recognized it in myself, too. For my part, I’ve tried to show more interest in my own kids and I don’t put all the responsibility on them for carrying our relationship.
With my husband’s family, I think a lot of it is that we’re very different from them in both philosophy and politics. Keeping a little bit of distance allows us to still care about each other.
What I don’t have patience for, though, is the belief that all family members have to like each other. I have this one cousin’s wife who is my polar opposite in just about every way. She strongly believes in spanking her kids and believes that it’s the only way to ensure your kids won’t be brats. I am strongly against spanking kids. She’s also into hunting, like a lot. She recently posted pictures on Facebook of her latest hunting trip and said in the caption that it “felt good to get some blood on the truck.” I personally think that hunting for sport is barbaric.
She’s actually the wife of my cousin, though I know he also feels the same way. I happened to find out that my cousin’s dad, my late uncle, called my kids sissies at family outings behind their back because my kids weren’t good at sports.
The wife of the cousin who’s so into hunting had the nerve to send a “save the date” notice of her daughter’s high school graduation party this spring, with the message that she was sending advanced notice in case I wanted to fly up for it.
First of all, I’ve never met her kids, not even once. No way in hell I’m spending the money to fly back to Michigan for the graduation party of someone I’ve never met.
Second of all, I told her that I wouldn’t be coming because my husband’s going through chemo. I know she has my posts hidden on Facebook because she didn’t acknowledge that he had cancer or my 25th anniversary. And that’s fine. Facebook is not real life. But her lack of interest in pretty major events in my life means that she can’t expect me to be involved enough in hers that I’d spend the money to fly back for her kid’s graduation.
One of my other cousins from the same uncle bragged about shooting cats from his window. Given how much I love cats, you can imagine how I felt about that.
I can admit that we just really don’t like each other. And I think that’s okay. I wasn’t particularly involved with my cousins when I was growing up, either. They’re all pretty country and they do things I find morally objectionable. They think I’m too liberal and uppity because I have a college degree and they don’t. We have nothing in common and I see no point in trying to force relationships just because we’re blood relatives.
Sometimes family falls short of the ideal of the big, warm extended family where everyone loves everyone else. And that’s okay. The people who matter in my life are the ones who accept me for who I am. I don’t owe anything to the ones who don’t.