I was not aware that I had a great uncle John until my grandpa Bill died. Bill was my mother’s dad. Once Grandpa Bill was gone, I found out I had a whole host of family I had never met before.
I don’t know if my mother went to see these once lost relatives to make amends for the feud, or if it was to drum up support for her own feud that began when her father died and her brother Elwyn moved into the family farm and took it over. My aunt Wilma sided with Elwyn, and although I don’t know all the details, I know my mother was somehow bereft of 40 acres of land she could have sold, had it not been for this dispute. Thus began a feud between my mother and her only living brother that lasted the rest of their lives. She feuded with her sister for at least five or six years, and it was my mother who carried the grudge that my aunt tried to repair.
My grandpa Bill and his brother John’s feud also began over land, another dispute about acreage that had lasted so long, that sometime after my grandfather’s death, I read about it in the Sunday comics. Ripley’s “Believe it or Not” had a post in the Sunday funnies, and I read in that column that my grandfather and his brother had been the oldest living relatives, living the closest distance apart, who had not talked to each other in the longest number of years. They shared a property line and had never spoken to each other that last forty years of their lives.
Feuding must be part of my family dynamics, or maybe it is in our genes, since I have not spoken to a brother of mine for almost 30 years. My niece and one of her brothers have not spoken in over six years. Both of these have something to do with property, but I believe the basis for them began in broken family dynamics to begin with. All you that wish me well, please do not lecture me on making up with my brother. There is nothing on this earth that could ever repair the sick and twisted ways he treated me. He is the favored son. He was also cruel, like my father. When a person is abused and disrespected, they must get out of that relationship for the sake of their sanity and never look back. The dynamics for these relationships are set in early childhood, and they rarely change for the better.
When families are dysfunctional, the children in them do not have their emotional needs met. Because these children do not feel loved, supported, or otherwise encouraged, they always feel that something is missing, inadequate, or otherwise damaged and unlovable. Add abuse to that, and those children are forever damaged.
Given those feelings, then when someone in the family seems to have more of the love from parents or all of it, it can make relationships between siblings irrational and hostile. Evidence of love, if not given in healthy physical ways of hugs and kisses, pats on the head, and caresses, can be twisted and focused on other symbolic representations of affection. Money, objects, and gifts can be seen as replacements for that affection.
When a sibling perceives another in that brood getting something they did not get from Mom or Dad, real or imagined, it causes jealousy, anger, hurt feelings, and sometimes hatred for each other. It’s rarely just about the money or property. It’s something much larger and much darker than greed. It goes back to the mistreatment of a child’s ego; the lack of nurturing from a parent is the root of this.
Studies talk about four kinds of dysfunctional families, but the kind of dysfunction does not really matter. They talk about four types of children that come out of these families. That doesn’t matter either. Putting the children of dysfunction into one of four categories objectifies us even more and simplifies a really complex and messy problem into popular culture’s psychobabble. Knowing a category does not solve the problem. We already know we have a problem.
Herein lays the problem: we were not loved in healthy ways. We knew it, and it haunts us for the rest of our lives. It creates great divisions and hatreds among family members that can carry on for generations. My sister told me her kids once said she needed more compassion as a mother. “How can I have compassion,” she said, “when none was ever given me? How do I learn that now?” How, indeed? I suppose counseling would be a possible answer, but how do you get people to counseling who would not sit in the same room together?
Family feuds will go on.The only ways to break the pattern are to not have children, and that was my choice, or to be a better parent to your own kids. That’s where counseling and parenting classes would be helpful, to begin at the root of the problem: bad or abusive parenting. Only then can this terrible cycle of dysfunction end in your family.