The Family Barometer: The Least Accurate Estimator of Success or Failure

Do you often wonder why at every turn in your life you find one or more family members ready and willing to criticize you and your efforts, both good and bad?  How long does it take after you step into a relative’s house for the holidays for your grossly overweight aunt to notice your five pound gain or loss?  You are far from alone.  Family struggles, historically, result in many of the greatest battles in life, and can often lead to catastrophic, history-changing events.  On the same hand, many cultures deeply honor familial ties, and individuals will die to defend another family member, especially if it is a child or woman.  It is this latter concept with which I align, but with which I also find myself in a constant war to defend against those without similar values.

As a child, I grew up with a sense of family closeness.  This included strong ties to my mother and father, siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, and so on.  Perhaps this is the same for you?  These people can be your greatest fans in life, and applaud every good move you make to the point of overdoing it.  You would probably also agree with me that some family members are the greatest critics for everything you do in life, from life-changing events for which they should be happy down to the mundane.  So, why is this?  I believe there are a couple of reasons.  I feel it is often related to outdated information as well as a desire to maintain a sense of control.

For most of us, the last time family members interacted with us on a daily basis was about the end of high school, plus or minus a few years.  A good number of years pass by, during which we go to college, date and meet our spouses, and start our independent lives.  Our lives change as do our beliefs and patterns of thinking.  Much of this time is commonly spent without daily direct contact with family members with whom we grew up with in our earlier years.  There is an inherent loss of closeness and immediacy that naturally develops over those years.  It is simply a part of life and moving forward toward our own dreams and goals.  It does not mean we abandon those for whom we love dearly as family.

Unfortunately, some family members are left with preconceived or outdated information on us upon which they still relate and operate.  Their last impressions were of your antics, beliefs and personality of your teenage years.  The more updated personality, the person into whom you are now developed, are foreign and unknown to them.  Your independence, of which they previously had control, is unknown and invalid to them.  They still relate to you as a teenager or child.  Why?  Simply, it is because most of their history with you is not based on the person you are now, but again, based upon those childhood and teenage immature interactions.

As for the desire to control I mentioned, again you are not the same person your family members knew.  Instead, you are a fully-capable individual who commonly lives a separate life from your family.  No longer do they have the sense of control over daily actions they once did.  At the same time, however, family members still perceive they have the same level of control and daily interactions of your earlier years.  The views of your spouse or your kids are irrelevant to them, and the only matter of concern is your quick action to their satisfaction on their desires.  When you challenge this assumption and the perceived family hierarchy, their response is often negative, and is an attempt to maintain this level of control and status over you they previously enjoyed.

Why is all of this more relevant these days compared to earlier generations?  The answer is social media.  I enjoy social media, but there are some aspects that need to be considered.  This electronic environment within which we so willingly associate with long lost acquaintances or family members who are best interacted with only at holidays also presents a false reality whereby closeness and the need to control are relevant.  We are subjected daily to the political views and other beliefs of family members and in-laws who hold beliefs counter to what we often believe.  We see daily what is going on in our relative’s lives, and almost recreates a family circle we had growing up, just in virtual reality.  There is a perceived sense of closeness or proximity.  The conflict, as mentioned, lies in the fact we still believe our family should act and think how they did 10, 20 or more years ago.  It upsets people when social media posts indicate these beliefs are not as one expects or agrees.  This does not even address the fact that written dialog can often be misinterpreted, because tone and visible cues are often lost in the communication.  As a result things are written with active or passive aggression.  People shoot posts back and forth, pinging each other with downright nasty posts or snide, backhanded comments only the other person will understand.  The result is to rip family ties farther apart.  This is exactly counter to the intent of social media: to bring people closer together.  In a sense, social media does bring people closer together.  Specifically, it brings people who never knew each other closer together, or people together who have less emotional baggage with each other.

So how does this electronic environment all relate to the title of my topic?  Social media can be positive in that family can see your success, and shower you with an overabundance of praise.  Likewise, visibility within social media allows for constant antagonism and putting down on the efforts of family members to succeed.

Simply, the mold within which some of your family places you no longer applies, and is inaccurate to measure your successes or failures.  In fact, their mental script for your life is completely full of bugs, and needs to be updated.  This script now not only includes you and the personal changes and beliefs in your life, but it also includes the idiosyncrasies of your spouse and your kids.  In other words, they need to grow up and catch up to where you are in your life.

Many family members grow with you, and understand the many changes you make in your life.  Amusingly, they are likely the ones who still pile on the overabundance of praise.  Other family members remain in the archaic periods of your life in attempt to control you within a realm currently known only to them.  These family members ironically have the least control over your lives as they desperately cling to past mental constructs, and feed you their antagonism and their putrid negativity in one form or another.  Desperate are they not!

Your success or failure is independent of this negativity projected by your family.  This is something of which I constantly remind my wife and myself.  In the end, and in the continual and honorable defense of my immediate family, I long abandoned other family counter to our goals.  It is a sacrifice I make willingly for my positive family atmosphere.  When the barometer is more accurate and updated, then families will be as they should.

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  1. Steve says

    Thanks, Michael, That was really profound , and so very much needed. One of the things I find myself dis-liking about face-book is the in your face one liners that this type of dialogue seems to foster. To say that I am not thin skinned and don’t really care is not accurate either. Thank you for speaking for many of us. I’m looking forward to more of your important insights.

    • says

      Thanks Steve! I appreciate your response and reading what I write. Things we say everywhere matter, and the perceived anonymity of social media posts is exactly that. Perceived. As a culture we need to take responsibility for what we say. The veil behind which we think we hide can be very thin.

  2. Bobbie Vedvick says

    Great article and a topic I have held quietly to myself for years. I have long said how unfair it is to “forever” compare me to when I was a mere 16-year-old. Life is an ever-growing, ever-advancing experience. I’ve changed immensely from when I was in my thirties, and still more in my forties and fifties. Not that I was a horrible person; obnoxious at times and definitely wrong, sure, but I’ve learned more each decade and that leaves a mark on who I am. Each decade was a step in my life to where I will ultimately be by the time I die. And though I’ve offered some apologies for the learning curve along the way, I look back with enjoyment to even the mistakes I made and misconceptions I held and the events that taught me a better way. It’s all a learning process. It’s all the building of wisdom. And it’s a road that everybody should be allowed to travel in their own right and without critisizm.

    • says

      Thanks Bobbie. You are exactly correct. We evolve constantly throughout our entire lives. We all make mistakes along the way, and it is how we become better people from them that is key.

  3. Helen says

    Extremely well thought out and written, Michael. I wish our own entire extended family had opportunity to read this and ponder it a bit! Such a different world we all live in than the one we knew as children. Such different people we all are than when we were children, teens, young adults. You have put it in perspective. Thank you.

  4. Lynda Monroe says

    Hi Michael. I really enjoyed reading and understanding your insight. I must say, I have never thought of things in this fashion. But…it fits with my life exactly. I think if I had heard your comments some time ago, my family relationships would have been different, at least on my part that is… If these ideas are put into action, then we would most likely not have past issues continually run our life. How profound, now I understand my mother a lot more. Thank you so much. Please continue you insights, for they are amazing and a big help to open the mind.


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