The Great Normative Family

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The Great Normative Family

I love you, you love me.
We’re a happy family.
With a great big hug
And a kiss from me to you
Won’t you say you love me too?

-Barney

            Family is a concept I’ve always had difficulty to grasp, despite it being so basic, so fundamental to the way our societies are built. How on Earth are people that you’ve never met or chosen supposed to be the most important people in your life? Why do we have so much pressure to like, let alone love, people that are imposed to you? Why are we relentlessly taught to love our family unconditionally? Everyone has a family, from the best, most generous people, to the abusers, the criminals. And sometimes, which is even worse, your family is the best to everyone around them except to you.

             I would dislike my brother if he were not my brother. In school, we would have had the typical jock-nerd clichéd relationship. We have no common interests, very different values. We talk a few times a year, always in the context of family reunions. It used to make me very sad, as I grew up, to see the big brother I always looked up to become close to a stranger. But as an adult, I now see him as this person with whom I have very cordial relations. Someone I care for from afar, an acquaintance. My efforts to get closer have been in vain, so now we have a semi-neutral relationship. But this is okay. We’re two persons that, due to circumstances out of our control, were born in the same household. Why would our mere genetic similarity make us de facto very close, when our personalities are not? I do envy some of my friends who say their sibling is their best friend, their dad is their hero, their mom is their role model, their aunt is like a cool big sister, their grandma spoils them with food and affection, and their grandpa is a source of wisdom and courage, and such stereotypes that seem to come from everyone around us.

            All of these idealizations and protection of one’s family at all costs as I understand them are rooted in a long tradition in most (all?) cultures, if only for the survival of our species and our lineage. But haven’t modern times shaken up these concepts enough to rid us of the constant pressure of fitting into the familial mold society enforces upon us? Is family as a concept outdated? In fact, isn’t the mere fact one may adopt destroying our conception of family? — That is, taking a stranger with no biological relation to you as your own child, on the same exact level as a biological child. And if “family” can be so broadly defined as to include strangers, what does it mean? Is there even a signification to having a family if a sibling can become a stranger but a stranger can become a daughter? If, as some common usage suggests, we can call very close friends “family,” then is family an entirely subjective concept, coming to have a different meaning to any individual, and so being void of any a priori value?

         I launch these questions up in the air without any answers as I fail to really comprehend it all. Right now, I feel as though family strictly speaking is only hurtful insofar as, much like the American Dream, it is an unattainable ideal, the pursuit of which makes us suffer. And much like other normative concepts, our conception of family further marginalizes, victimizes, and stigmatizes individuals who are farthest from this ideal, usually for reasons that are entirely of their control. The more obvious forms of this are victims of incest and child abuse, who face even more difficulty in denouncing their perpetrators because of the notions of family that are embedded in society and in our legal systems. But they also makes it harder on a daily basis for those that were abandoned, orphaned, mistreated by relatives, reminded of their pain day to day from the age of 5 by the simple questions of “what do your parents do?” that follow us until death, and having to either lie or create a malaise, and by the recurring holidays from Mother’s Day to Christmas and Thanksgiving in which society forces guilt upon us for not loving our family enough or not being thankful for having relatives who treat us poorly.

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