Family Dynamics

Inspired by the book, Dance of Anger, we began asking a few questions of our families over the holidays.  We asked each of the in-laws what their relationships were like with their brothers and sisters and what their hopes and fears were for their own kids.

Father-in-law had two hopes for his children: that they would “never lose faith” and that they would have work that they enjoyed. 

He then started talking about his siblings and blamed his lack of closeness with certain ones as a result of their loss of faith.  He clearly stated that he couldn’t have a close relationship with someone who wasn’t “growing in the faith.”  (Yep, it was all their fault, not his.)

The most interesting information was on the family trend of golden boy/black sheep.  On one side of the family through several generations, sons were mini-gods.  Their sisters existed to serve them. 

My mother-in-law, the smartest one in her family, told how she would hide her test scores in order to not threaten her older brother.  He was the guy, and everyone knew he was supposed to be on top.  Only the youngest sister challenged his position. 

He ended up being the family black sheep.   When I entered the family, his side of the family was not on speaking terms with anyone else.  This was blamed on his wife.

On the other side, the oldest son truly was gifted.  He also became the family black sheep.  Both are now reconciled.

I married the oldest son of two people whose older brothers were supposed to be the golden boys and ended up being the black sheep. 

My husband was both pushed to be the best, at times to the expense of his siblings, and jumped on at the slightest sign of independence or rebellion.  

So now I am faced with an interesting position.  When our in-laws’ siblings lost faith, they became outsiders in the family.  When the one brother estranged himself, it was blamed on his wife.  Oldest sons seemed more at risk.

Perhaps, much later, they will find out where we stand.   Meanwhile, I think it would do more damage right now.

12 thoughts on “Family Dynamics

  1. Ahab says:

    Guuuuh . . . Rigid patriarchy, shunning of non-believers, and favoritism among offspring are ingredients for family discord. This family is really taking fundamentalism TOO FAR.

    • prairienymph says:

      The gender roles and unconscious favouritism are not necessarily part of Christianity. I’m sure it can happen just as easily in non-evangelical home. There are enough gender stereotypes in pop culture to promote girls as directionally challenged shopaholics and guys as bumbling sports fanatics.

      The ironic thing is that this family looks down on fundamentalism. They did not approve of my former church. I think they view themselves as quite progressive. I’m sure they would be horrified at my assessment of them.

  2. St.ain't says:

    Sadly, too true. This discription would fit with my ‘non-evangelical’ family pre-conversion to mormonism and in spades after they converted. My good grades were deemed unneccesary; the only thing that counted was cleaning up after the priesthood holders in the family and keeping secret the abuse me and my sister suffered.
    Now that I’ve left the church, I have no relationship with them out of fear for me and my children’s safety. But they won’t leave me alone. They send letters and e-mails to the extended family about my alleged sins and depravity. It’s been a tough road.

    • prairienymph says:

      Ouch. Is it hard for you to see yourself as intelligent, capable and worthy after all that?
      What *#%$ jerks. (My swearing vocab is limited, but it sounds like they deserve a good one.)

  3. I know what you mean and totally get that you have to do what you have to do.

    Without getting into details the consequence of my leaving the Mor(m)on faith has resulted in the believers in my family disowning me. For my own emotional self-preservation I have had to redefine “family” to include only those individuals who love and respect me for who I am. When I deleted 12 people/relatives from Facebook yesterday, it felt like a final rite of passage into a life where I am totally free to be true to myself. It was the right thing for me to do.

  4. Grace says:

    Oh man, do I know what you mean. We’ve been cut off by both sets of parents at different points. The parents-in-law basically haven’t spoken to us since they found out we no longer shared their beliefs. I don’t see any chance of reconciliation in the foreseeable future. Of course the estrangement – and in fact their estrangement from all of their children, not just us – is all our fault and has nothing to do with them :p

  5. St.ain't says:

    Hi Grace!
    I share that special pain that goes with loss of family ties. I am still saddened every holiday when my children and grandchildren have a big gap in “family” get togethers. One grandson is old enough now that he asks lots of questions. Since he has been raised in an environment of love and acceptance, he can’t quite wrap his head around the idea that a child would be cut off because of difference in religious beliefs.
    Are you still pressured to “give in”? We are constantly.

    • prairienymph says:

      If it wasn’t for the very real threat of being cut off (emotionally since they would probably still make an effort to include us in family events), I would already tell them like I have with my family.
      I think I am starting to understand how GLTB people feel. I am totally pressured to speak the language and agree with what they say. I hate it, but it isn’t my family, so I try and stay quiet.

      That must break your heart to have family missing like that. And to have them blame the estrangement on you? Aaarrgh.

    • Grace says:

      Well, they literally aren’t speaking to us, so no, no pressure to give in :p They actually refuse completely to discuss how they feel about us not being Christian, or why they’re upset with us. For a while we’d get a mean email from them, not pressuring, just random insults and nasty comments. We kept tried to engage and work through things with them, but they just don’t want to have any conversation that involves actually acknowledging that they’ve behaved badly, or that doesn’t involve us taking all the blame for our relationship being what it is. We eventually had to tell them to stop contacting us if all they were going to do was say mean things and refuse to discuss things . . . Pretty sad, but we’ve had a lot more peace since they stopped talking to us :/

  6. St.ain't says:

    I wonder how many other ex-mo’s have suffered the same fate?
    My parents said basically it was their way or the highway.
    My dear sweet upgrade nevermo husband tried his best, “Couldn’t we agree that we disagree on this one matter and still be in touch?” he asked.
    They laid out their terms- return to the church, new husband must convert,
    remain silent re:abuse, etc. For my birthday my mother always sends a cheerful “you are going to hell” card complete with a new poem or song she’s written about Joe Smith or her GA of the month club.
    sigh.

    • Grace says:

      That sounds pretty damn unpleasant.

      It’s amazing how much evangelicals can go on about family values, but as soon as an adult child does something that doesn’t fall exactly in line with they think, they distance themselves or cut off contact all together. It’s so counter to everything I was told we believed growing up. It’s been pretty disillusioning to realize our parents didn’t believe any of the stuff they were preaching applied to them, just to their kids – we’re their subordinates after all, right?

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