Cherish Who Cherishes You
Holidays are complicated. In many cases, it involves interacting with people who are - for one reason or another - involved in your life. Many view it as a chore or an obligation. Last year, many folks experienced tremendous relief because Covid meant not having to endure the sometimes strenuous dynamics of family.
I love holidays. My family has always been the place where folks came to when they didn’t have a place to go. Our dinner table was ripe with congenial discussion of politics, history, art and culture. Not a single person left the table without learning something. But, I think it has a lot to do with the fact that we’ve never behaved like most nuclear families do. My family home has always felt more like a very elegant community center.
In March of 2020, David Brooks, a conservative political and cultural commentator for The New York Times, sent the Conservative world into a frenzy when he published an article suggesting that the nuclear family was a mistake. In his article he stated: “Extended families have two great strengths. The first is resilience. An extended family is one or more families in a supporting web. Your spouse and children come first, but there are also cousins, in-laws, grandparents—a complex web of relationships. … Extended families have more people to share the unexpected burdens—when a kid gets sick in the middle of the day or when an adult unexpectedly loses a job.”(1)
All of the resulting discussion, however, centered European thinking. The value of the extended family, kinship circles or a “tribal” approach to community has long been part of the Global Majority’s success at social structures. As Haley McEwen, wrote, “Nuclear family supremacy functioned as a form of cultural imperialism which attempted to destroy indigenous societies, beliefs and knowledge systems through reeducation of people into Western gender roles and gendered divisions of labor within public and private spaces.”(2) Not to idealize the past or romanticize some sense of mythical perfect Africa, extended family or kinship circles have been a distinct part of our survival and thrival in the diaspora. It is the breaking of those very structures, for example The Great Migration, which has led to our current position in American society.
The concept of the Conjugal Family as the “healthiest family construct” made workers dependent on their employers rather than on their communities. A nuclear family ““had to be flexible and mobile as it searched for opportunity and property. Forced to rely on their own ingenuity, its members also needed to plan for the future and develop bourgeois habits of work and saving.(3)” This notion dominates our ideas of success.
My child was away recently on a fabulous internship. As it drew to a close, folks began asking them what they were going to do. They replied happily, “I’m going home.” My child was asked numerous times, “Are your parents okay with you coming home?” I learned all this because when we were planning to pick them up, they asked me, “Is it okay for me to come home?”
I was gobsmacked. It never occurred to me that I would have to tell my child that they are always welcome at home. Or that I would be reminding them of who we are as a Kinship Circle. Once again, I patiently explained that they could live with us forever if they wanted to do so. It didn’t make them a failure, it made them an investor in our family’s future wealth. I reminded them that they are an active contributor to our family. I reminded them that they add value to our quality of life. And finally, I reminded them that the nuclear family was a European construct that became over popularized during the Industrial Revolution and again after World War II to serve the interests of our oppressors.
More or less, depending on the personalities, our family has been a “consanguineal” family. (Consanguineous relationships are through descent from a common ancestor or kinship based on affinity due to a close relationship or connection. ) In these times where we are feeling less and less connected to human beings, we must remember that we have the right to choose our own families. We deserve to be with people who affirm, love and lift us up. Blood alone does not dictate what makes a family.
Two years ago, I wrote this essay, GOD DOES LOVE UGLY — EXAMINING WHAT COMPELS PEOPLE TO REMAIN UNLOVED & BOUND BY FAMILY. It’s the foundation for this blog post and contains a lot of information about the origin of the word family. Here are some of the highlights.
“Over the next two months, thousands of people will resent feeling coerced to suffer time with their family of origin. They will politely (or rudely) endure relatives who impolitely deny the essential core essence of their identity. Abuse will be tolerated. Or it won’t be tolerated; screaming matches will occur; and the family member with the least standing will be made to feel guilty for breathing. This same abused member will be threatened with shunning, at the worst, or threats to their ongoing physical wellbeing in the form of food and shelter. Coping mechanisms will be triggered. There will be anxiety. Depression will follow. It’s ugly.”
What is worse is that while reading interpretations of the Talmud and the Bible, I came to the conclusion that God does love ugly. One argument for honoring one’s mother and father consists of an assertion that to honor God, one must honor their parents because the three of them are who caused you to come into being. By extension, this attitude extends to ass-grabbing, homophobic Uncle Bob and Grandpa Pedo. But, the actual real reason any of these attitudes are in place is to uphold the State (Israel or Rome) and the status quo. There has to be a hierarchy, and in order to maintain dominance, the chain of command must be clearly established.”
It is not your obligation to organize your personal life to be more convenient to corporations. It is not your duty to honor people who dishonor you. It is not mandatory to be part of a “family.” The world is changing in fascinating ways and this is one important change. We can choose family and nobody but the members of our kinship circle can decide what does or does not constitute membership.
If you are one of those people who endure holidays, I want to say, "Stop. You don’t have to do it anymore. It’s okay. You are allowed to walk away. Your mental and physical health are important. "
The world is changing in fascinating ways and this is one important change. .
- Find those people who are invested in you.
- Take the time to work through the process of growing along side of each other.
- Learn how to trust and teach it through example.
- Honor your chosen family.
- Commit to triple vision — see them for who they were, who they are right now and as the highest self they will become…all at the same time.
- Expect the same in return.
Then, gather them to you. Make up your own holiday traditions. Pass them along. Remember, it is a truly decolonized way of being. It is a tradition which has been embraced by the Global Majority since the beginning of time itself.
- The Nuclear Family Was A Mistake, David Brooks, “https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2020/03/the-nuclear-family-was-a-mistake/605536/
- Africa Today, Journal Vol. 67, No. 4, Summer 2021, “Inventing Family: Colonial Knowledge Politics of “Family” and the Coloniality of “Pro-family” Activism in Africa,” Haley McEwen, Jstor, Haley McEwen
- The Real roots Of The Nuclear Family, Kay Mymowitz, https://ifstudies.org/blog/the-real-roots-of-the-nuclear-family/ (Author is a conservative trying to promote “family values.”)