Families, support, privacy, caregiving and chaos and misunderstandings in unprepared families

I am an only child who grew up in a nuclear family and spent most of my childhood in cities far away from relatives, I always had this “grass is greener when you have siblings and a large family” conviction which was further boosted by all the talk I heard about how families were always there for you, they were the people you could depend on, the safety net, and so on. I even remember how, when I was around eight or nine years old, someone asked me what I wanted, and I said I wanted a brother or sister, “kisee bhee size ka ho”, something everyone around me found very amusing (except my parents, perhaps).

Cut forward several years, I started having doubts about this “normal family” warm, fuzzy envelop of love, of “your family is always there for you, with you” sort of business. My experience net had widened. I saw families that remained rock-solid together regardless of tsunamis of setbacks. I also saw families where siblings retained a relaxed amiability across distances that let them connect emotionally even if months has passed by between conversations. But then there were families where sibling fights were bitter and beyond reconciliation. And there were the other families where, whilst there were no outright yelling-slanging match, the gaps were unbridgeable and smiles stiff and reserved for when outsiders were watching, and the normal distance of cities and busy schedules were a matter of relief. There was no universal standard of “family”.

And I wondered whether the implied concept of “normal, happy family” and lasting sibling affection was more a matter of wishful thinking. Perhaps people kept talking of it as a norm when it was actually more of an “ideal”. I wondered whether repeated statements of “this is our culture” and “normalcy” around “family-oriented society” made people feel defensive, guilty, or inadequate about their differences and conflicts with siblings.

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An instance of caregiver isolation

I thought I’d share an example to illustrate a situation where caregivers are unable to speak up honestly about their problems and get support.

We often hear of how we must love the patient, and if the patient is a parent, how we must love the parent as the parent loved us, and how we must do things for the parent as the parent did things for us. Yet there are assumptions here that no one questions, and situations where care is challenging because of problems caregivers cannot talk about.

But first, about families.

I know families where parents were abusive towards spouse and children. They drank, they beat the wife and kids, they would not let the children study. Broken homes, broken bones, broken hearts of small children. The children somehow managed to make their way through their lives in spite of the negativity in the home, in spite of the beating and drunken torture, the neglect, whatever.

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