I was born into one of those “yours mine and ours” kind of families. Both of my parents had been previously married; my father had been married twice before. I had a half-sister from my father’s first marriage, and a half-brother from my mother’s first marriage. Then there was me, followed by my younger brother.
We lived in New Orleans, exotic, yes, but we lived in a fairly typical post-World War II American suburb. The subdivision was long blocks of three-bedroom ranch houses. I was smack in the flood of the famous Baby Boom, and so I knew overcrowded schools and everything else that came for the Boomers.
At the time, most of us didn’t think in terms of happy or unhappy families. Our families just were. Some families were clearly better off financially than others, but I never asked whether my own family was happy. I don’t really think any of us did. Some families were large and others small. Some did a lot of screaming at each other (mine was relatively small and extraordinarily quiet).
But even the screaming wasn’t considered bizarre; it was just something that came along with some families. (The one really loud family in our neighborhood that I remember best had two parents and six children living in a three-bedroom house, and five of the six children were boys.) (I’d probably be a screamer, too.)
Children accept all kinds of situations as normal, because it is normal for them. It’s what they know. It’s the familiar. It may be far from ideal, but there’s a security in the familiar. And I know there can also be insecurity in the familiar.
It wasn’t until I was older that I began to understand many things about my own family that I didn’t see as a child. Every family has tensions; every family has brokenness. Broken people bring brokenness into every family. Both of my parents had been divorced, and I think there was often a determination to make this marriage work. But I know the possibility occurred to both of them.
But brokenness does not preclude happiness; families can be happy in spite of a lot of things stacked against them. But what I’ve learned in my own marriage is that it takes work – lots of work. And it’s helped enormously that both of us share the same faith.
Over at The High Calling, we’re starting a book discussion on The Secrets of Happy Families by Bruce Feiler. Feiler likes lists, and the book promises to have lots of them. What he’s done is to look at the studies, the research, the anecdotes, and his own experience, and identified what happy families seem to have in common. It promises to be a lively discussion – after all, we all have an opinion on families.
NPR did a story and interview with Bruce Feiler.
Photograph by Petr Kratochvil via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.