12.20.12 Parenting

Children Know Family When They See It

Children Know Family When They See It

BY Dr. Peggy Drexler

Whether or not Santa’s sleigh is full for your family this year, if you’re a mom, it’s a cinch that you will once again be lugging some heavy baggage around from now through New Year’s Day. And last time I looked, you didn’t have flying reindeer helping with all the chores or, more to the point, carrying the weight of expectations and assumptions we load on mothers and their families during the holiday season.

If you’re a perfectionist and a mother, you’re getting an especially exhausting work-out this month, striving for the perfect decorations, the perfect gifts, the perfect holiday party, the perfect meal, and let’s not forget, the perfect family! Even if you give yourself a break on the Martha Stewart aspects of the season, there’s no denying the pull so many of us feel to make this the best holiday ever — to succeed this year in sweeping our family conflicts and disappointments under the rug, at least for a day or two — to enjoy the warm glow of a roaring fire and our children’s delight — and to be good enough moms that our families will adore us and make us proud. No wonder no reindeer have signed up for the job of helping us pull that sleigh!

Why do we go through this, year after year? It’s hard enough for  mothers with devoted husbands and competing in-laws to measure up this time of year. When mom is single by choice or circumstance or raising children in a two-mom family (what I call maverick moms), society’s depiction of the so-called “traditional” or ideal family only adds to the holiday burden.

In fact, the holidays are an opportunity to drop some of the baggage we all carry year round, starting with our burdensome and restrictive assumptions about family. All too often, it is our own narrow ideas of what acceptable families look like and how they behave that weigh us down. The truth is, maverick moms and their children have a lot to teach us about family and community that can lighten the load for all of us in this and every season. The experience of many single and two-mom families shows that there’s a whole lot more to both family and community than meets the “traditional” eye. Take Alexis Popescu* and her son Declan*, whom I interviewed for my book, Raising Boys Without Men: “Because Alexis Popescu’s family lived in Austria, some 7,000 miles from her Seattle home, this single mother made a conscious effort to build a more geographically desirable collected family for her son, Declan.

Not surprisingly, her core group of four or five friends has become more central to 3-year-old Declan’s life than his distant grandparents are. Curious after a discussion about families that occurred at her son’s day care center, Alexis, a geologist and single mother by choice, asked Declan, “Who is your family?” The boy listed all the people central to their daily lives — Harry, their playful neighbor; Marietta, Alexis’s best friend and former college roommate; Eve, a coworker and dear friend of his mother’s; and his surrogate family Jan and Marty and their children, Roland and Jeannette, whom he sees most weekends and with whom he vacations. Then he added his grandparents in Austria. But they came at the end of the list.

Children know family when they see it. The idea that “traditional” families are the only source of healthy children and a happy holiday and that Mom bears ultimate responsibility for both is as much a fantasy as Santa Claus. When children are well loved, the number or gender of parents is beside the point. Children know love when they experience it. That is the one and only gift that matters at this or any season, in “traditional” families and alternative ones. So chill. The reality of family life in America today is far richer, less perfect, more loving, more varied than many would have us believe. Love weighs nothing — in fact, it lightens the load. You can lighten yours, if you remember that the holidays are a time to share your love with the world and with those closest to you, whether or not you are related by blood or marriage. After all, love really does make a family.

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Dr. Peggy Drexler is a research psychologist, author, speaker, and a regular featured contributor to a range of publications and Web sites – from The Huffington Post to Psychology Today to HelloGiggles. She is an Assistant Professor of Psychology in Psychiatry at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University and a former gender scholar at Stanford University. Peggy has spent her career studying the magic and mysteries of families. Her recent book: Our Fathers, Ourselves: Daughters, Fathers And The Changing American Family, explores the powerful – and sometimes surprising – connection between dads and a new generation of independent, accomplished women. Peggy’s bestselling book, the highly acclaimed Raising Boys Without Men: How Maverick Moms are Creating the Next Generation of Exceptional Men, is a seminal work in the social sciences. It offers an illuminating look at how single mothers by choice, chance and circumstance and two-mother lesbian families are raising happy, healthy and masculine young men. The book was nominated for the Books for a Better Life award and the Lamda Literary award. Peggy can be found on  Facebook, Twitter @DrPeggyDrexler and on her Website.

Comments

  • Vancouver Dad

    Great message. (although I do hope it applies to Dad’s aswell)

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