In my extended family, background checks are done on a prospective bride or groom entering the family to determine whether this individual comes from “a good family”. Say whaaat?! This isn’t an official or formal check, and my family doesn’t include any law enforcement individuals—what the extended family does is they try to meet as many members of the family as possible and ask questions of them and of mutual friends to learn as much about the “stranger” trying to enter their midst as they can. This isn’t unique to my family: all over the world people consider the family of the person entering their family, all for the sake of trying to avoid serious problems later on.
People define what makes “a good family” differently, and the opinions and impressions of others should be taken with a grain of salt because your family members may have different values from you.
Good news: you’re not your family, and your family is not you!
Our families greatly influence us—for better or for worse. If you don’t like your family’s dynamic, you may decide to live your life differently from what you experienced, but just as easily you may fall into the pattern of doing things the way your family always did them, because it’s what you know, because it’s familiar. The same applies if you love your family structure and dynamic: you may continue to live the way you’re used to, or you may choose to try something different from what you experienced.
We’re unique so we can experience the same thing as someone else but have different reactions to it and learn different lessons from it. Experiences shape us. Due to ego (I think) and the emphasis that society places on being self-made, a lot of us want recognition for the part we played in becoming who we are, recognition for the choices we made, and that’s why some of us rebel against the way we were raised—it’s our way of saying “I’m unique, I’m in charge of the way my life turns out because I make my own choices and decisions”.
But I don’t believe you’re destined to make the same mistakes or experience the same sorrows your family did: if you came from a broken home, you can have a healthy relationship, and your marriage can be the complete opposite of what your parents or relatives had. If most of your family, including you, has dangerous bad habits, you don’t have to bring that into a future relationship. Conversely, just because your family didn’t believe in swearing or yelling or drinking to excess doesn’t mean you or the family you create in the future are safe from these things—you need to be thoughtful and intentional about what you want for your life and work with your spouse and God to bring it to pass.
What does it mean to come from “a good family”?
Have you ever regularly spent time at a friend’s house and noticed that they did things differently from how it was done in your family? Maybe the way they address one another, or how much (or little) time they spend together struck you. Or how neatly or messily they kept their house. Did you sense tension every time you sat down for a meal with them, or do you forget that you aren’t a member of the family because you always feel so welcome? What you like or don’t like affect your impression of the family (note: regular interaction—not a few encounters—are required to really have a chance of knowing a family’s dynamic).
I’ve spoken with friends and family members about their challenges with their in-laws: they did not have a lot of exposure to their in-laws prior to marriage, and family is usually on their best behaviour once they realize that their child/niece/nephew/grandchild/etc. cannot be persuaded to change their mind regarding the marriage. After marriage, interactions with in-laws may increase and that’s when you really see the family you’ve married into—in some cases it can take a few years before you realize what your new family truly thinks about many things, including you! Knowing the family can also give a few hints into why someone handles certain types of issues a certain way, so there is value in knowing the family of a person. It’s important not to label a family as a bad one simply because they’re different from your family.
A “good family” does not mean all the individual members are awesome, nor does a “bad family” mean all the individual members are terrible. Focus on the character of the person that you’ll be entering into a relationship with and be interacting with regularly first, and don’t judge them 100% by their own extended family—they may be well aware of their family’s shortcomings and be working hard to be better. And remember: your family isn’t perfect either, and may even be considered a “bad family” by some! Pay attention to belief systems and personality differences in the extended family that could be problematic in the future and consider how it could affect your new family—differences don’t have to affect your decision to be in a relationship if you know the implications of what you’re getting into.
Sometimes you’re blessed beyond your expectations
It’s lovely when you marry someone, then find out their family is just as awesome as they are, and is a family that you wouldn’t have minded being born into—that’s the icing on the cake! I hope that’s been your experience (or that it will be your future experience).
Married or not, how important was (is) the family of the person when you were (are) considering them as a prospective spouse?