| Family Reflections |

Not What It Seems

No family is perfect, despite what it may look like


"When we looked into the family, we heard raving reviews. The mother was a tzadeikes, the father a pillar of the community, each child in the family outstanding in his and her way. I felt honored and privileged to marry into this amazing family.

“At the wedding and well into the sheva brachos, the veneer held up well. I could feel the palpable admiration that everyone holds toward these people. Clearly, no one outside this family knows what goes on here. But as an insider, I can now tell you that the truth is very far removed from the public face.”

It often happens that young people fall hook, line, and sinker for the public reputation of others. Their youth, naivety and lack of life experience leads them to assume that public appearances represent private realities. They see couples standing beside each other, faces radiant and smiling, and assume they’re witnessing a blissful marriage. They hear about the wonderful deeds of members of the community and assume that the people in question aren’t only laudable fundraisers and chesed-doers, but also laudable parents and spouses. In other words, they assume that the superficial public presentation represents the deeper truth.

But while it sometimes does, it sometimes does not.

What Really Goes On

What really goes on in family life tends to be a mixed bag.

“It wasn’t apparent at first that everyone disliked the matriarch of the family, the one who controlled all the money. I had thought that being so wealthy and renowned for her generous donations to every institution in our city, she was also generous to her own family. Turns out I was very wrong about that. It seems she believes in the ‘hard knocks’ school of life and feels that financial support cripples people. We have a lot of disgruntled family members here.”

What a shock it must be to discover there is jealousy, conflict, and unhappiness between the smiling relatives — people who just a short while ago danced and dined together in joy and, what appeared to be, harmony.

And yet, why is that so surprising? Rare is the individual who has attained the level of inner harmony that would permit her to accept differences — and slights — with equanimity and forbearance. A person is sometimes born with a “teflon” coating, a shield that causes insults, neglect, and mistreatment to slide off unnoticed. Most people have to work a lifetime to get to the point where they can not only tolerate the imperfections of other human beings, but can actually enjoy the company of flawed people.

The Perfect Family

“Once I became aware of what was going on, I decided it was important to separate ourselves as much as possible from the family and its politics. We moved across the country so that we wouldn’t have such close involvement. We made wonderful friends in our new community. After some time, however, we developed our own marriage problems. I looked at my friends and neighbors with envy. I wished that my own marriage could be as wonderful as theirs. We went to counseling and although the process wasn’t easy, it did help us immeasurably. Oddly enough, just around the time we finished therapy, I learned that our new best friends were getting divorced! This was one of the couples I’d been so jealous of just months before. I couldn’t believe it!”

What was so unbelievable? Did this person fall for the image once again? Just because we often do good things and just because we get all dressed up and act nicely in public, doesn’t mean that we don’t have serious problems going on in our relationships. In fact, the perfect family is not problem-free; it’s perfect only in that the challenges experienced there are perfectly tailored for the unique spiritual journeys of each family member.

There’s no need for jealousy because everyone is in the same boat, dealing with difficulties and disappointments along with their joys. What there is needed is a healthy perspective. We need a grown-up view of family life, one that acknowledges and accepts imperfection. Once we have that, we can get on with the work of working things out and we can stop wasting time wishing that we could have the imaginary family life that we construct for others.

 (Originally featured in Family First, Issue 704)

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