Family dynamics


Family dynamics intrigue me: it’s interesting that something one family considers normal can be the oddest thing to another family. For example, families show affection in different ways (some kiss on the lips) or have different approaches to punishment (some do not spank). A couple of my colleagues have told me that while my parents may actually be cute or adorable as I’ve been known to call them, they would never use those words to describe their parents. But no matter how different families may be, most families have love in common.

My parents have four children, two girls and two boys. I’m the oldest and I’m in my mid-30s. My sister is two years younger than me—she is married and she and my brother-in-law have toddler son. My two brothers are in their late 20s. We all live in the same province in Canada. My dad lives six hours away from us (he was transferred there by his employer almost 4.5 years ago). My youngest brother lives five hours away, and one hour away from my dad. For the past 6.5 years I’ve lived 15 minutes away from my parents.

My dad comes home every two to three weeks. I visit my family at least twice a week: one weeknight and most of Sunday. I usually sleep over if we have public holidays and when my sister was in Nigeria for five or six months at at time, I partially moved back home to keep my mom company. Last year was the first Christmas that our nuclear family wasn’t all together because my sister was in Nigeria—for 25 years we had celebrated Christmas as a family of six. If I’m not mistaken this year was the first that I didn’t see my mom on her birthday because she was away—we try to always be together for family celebrations such as birthdays.

Though I haven’t lived at my parents’ place for over six years you’ve probably guessed that I’m quite attached to my family. I’m most attached to my parents: I worry about their health as they’re getting older and since they’re in a long-distance relationship I like to check in with my dad by phone or text message daily to make sure that he’s not too lonely and my mom and I keep in almost daily contact. If I don’t hear from my sister by text message in a day, I start wondering what’s up: most of the time the reason I haven’t heard from her is because she’s busy mothering or resting after a sleepless night. Boys are different: my brothers bear my weekly checkups gracefully and because the last thing that men of that age want is a big sister harassing them, I leave them alone. This may make me sound like a great daughter and sibling but honestly I do it for my own peace of mind: I can’t fully be at peace and feel relaxed if I don’t know what is up with my family. I know this will change as I realize that I’m not superwoman and have no power to save my family or anyone from pain or suffering—it’s a work in progress!

One aspect of family dynamics is how the family is divided when there are sides to be taken due to a disagreement or a fight. My parents generally don’t take sides—they focus on getting the people fighting to resolve their issue, and they don’t hesitate to tell both parties what they’ve done wrong. Among the siblings we often divide up into “the girls” against “the boys”. My sister and I have very similar views on a lot of things, and we sound alike. We regularly say the same things and can almost read each other minds in some regards. My youngest brother and I have common interests, while he also has common (but different) interests with my sister. The elder of my two youngest brothers is closest to his brother, though he and my sister also get along, maybe because they’re both the “middle children”. He and I don’t share much in the way of common interests but we do have some similar personality traits (hence our clashes in the past). In our family the people who are closest or most similar to each other tend to clash the most: my dad and I are close, while my mom and sister are close.

No one is afraid to raise their voice to be heard in our family, and when we all get together there are usually at least a couple of disagreements because we’re different people—I know a few friends who would feel uncomfortable having dinner with our family because they’d be worried that these disagreements are serious due to the raised voices. And while it’s never cool to come to physical blows or to insult one another, I don’t have a problem with people passionately airing differences of opinion—in fact I get uncomfortable in environments where everything is bland and surface-level with the people that you live with or once lived with, where people deliberately don’t challenge each other for fear of starting a fight.

I want to know about your family: What are your family dynamics? What does your family do that others may consider weird?

5 thoughts on “Family dynamics

  1. In my family, there are 4 kids (and one who died as an infant). I’m the oldest, and my brother is the youngest and 12 years younger than I am. My sister right after me is closest to me, and my other sister is closest to my brother even though they are 4 years apart. Our family is really close, and even though we don’t talk everyday, we chat on Whatsapp every single day – well, my brother reads the messages and responds maybe once or twice a week. I’m very close to my family and I’ve been known to well up in tears sometimes, since I got married and moved back to Nigeria. My parents live in a different state, so I don’t see them often either. We try to be reunited once a year, but the last time we were all together was at my wedding almost 2 years. I’m praying we all (plus my hubby) can spend time together at the end of the year.

    We don’t really get into arguments with each other. Usually someone’s in a bad mood, and we leave them alone until they’re ready to come out of it – this includes the parentals. My dad has tried to foster a loving and united family unit because he didn’t/doesn’t have it in his family. He even made my brother-in-law ask my mum, me, and my younger siblings for my sister’s hand in marriage before he gave his consent – LOL, we were laughing the whole time.

    I think we have a good dynamic. Friends who meet my whole family always say they wish they were part of our little unit. My mum’s friend’s son stayed with my parents for about a year or so and asked my mum if she’d be his godmother because he enjoyed being with the family so much.

    Can anyone tell I’m so proud of my family? I’m about to cry cos I miss them :(

    • Aww, this was so sweet to read, Berry! I could sense the love and I teared up when I first read this because I could SO RELATE to what you were sharing. I really hope you all get together this year.

      I’m thankful that you have a dad who’s made such efforts—close-knit families don’t just happen, it takes work.

  2. I’m an only child. And until I was 12, I lived with both my parents and maternal grandparents. That year (Grade 7), my parents and I, along with my maternal grandmother, moved to Bermuda for a year. Horrible time. Very strict, VEDDY, VEDDY British girls only school (let’s just say that Bermuda, in 1991/92, was MORE British than the British). I wasn’t able to handle it, so my parents made the decision to have me come home a year later. Originally, I was going to attend boarding school, but my parents realized that 13 was a bit too young to be away (even though the school had one or two boarders in Grade 7 – one grade below me at the time), so my mom and grandmother moved back with me, while my dad stayed. He flew home on weekends. This routine continued for the next few years, when my dad was working in Chicago and Europe.

    I finished high school as a day student and went away to university. I wasn’t too far – only about 2 1/2 hours by car. It was expected that I went away. I would have been staying in residence even if I chose to go to school in Toronto. Everyone in my family – at least on my dad’s side – goes away. It’s about learning to be more independent. I came home for graduate school and stayed at home until I married in 2010. When I left for university, my grandparents moved out of the house as well and we sold our large, suburban home and moved into a smaller condo, where my mom, dad and I (when we were in town), lived. In 2003, we moved downtown to a larger condo. My parents, when they are in town (they are often in New York or Hong Kong), live in downtown Toronto. My husband and I live in the same area full time.

    As for affection, we’re pretty “typical” Chinese. I don’t think I’ve heard “I love you” from my parents since I was a very young child. We also don’t hug and kiss very much. In fact, this might be the reason why I’m not comfortable with hugging people I don’t see much, period. This, of course, doesn’t mean that we don’t love each other. We do. Love and affection doesn’t have to be physical. We are very open with each other and discussions range from casual to very serious. I can tell my parents ANYTHING, even things that many children of immigrants will NEVER discuss. We talk about finance/investing (my dad’s line of work), social issues and my husband and my prospective adoption (including our plans for the child such as where we’d like him/her to attend school). We don’t agree with everything, of course – there are cultural and generation gaps.

    Communication-wise, I don’t talk to my parents every day. I don’t really call them, either. We typically communicate electronically. It’s easier that way, since I often want to send them pictures or links. They’re quite tech-savvy for 60-somethings. I’m not surprised, though. My mom worked in IT until we had to move to Bermuda. Sure, it was more than 20 years ago when she last worked, but she has always kept up with changes. We were one of the first families in our neighbourhood to get a “real” PC (i.e. a DOS machine) in the mid-80s and probably one of the first to get internet (mid-90s. Dial-up, of course).

    In terms of closeness, I’m not sure who I’m closer to. My dad is easier to talk to about financial issues, of course, while I my mom can give me advice about raising children (even though her advice is probably not going to be what I’ll be taking) and shopping. I think the only thing I CAN’T discuss with either is cooking. Neither parents are good chefs. And they like different foods. I don’t know if it’s an immigrant vs. non-immigrant thing or just generational, but they find my food choices/diet weird! I haven’t gone vegan, but I’ve spent the past few years doing a pescetarian-only before 6 PM thing (I’ve been slowly reintroducing chicken to my lunch routine, but I don’t do it too often). I think they did sort of accept that, but probably find it odd. They also find it odd that I don’t really like rice/grainy foods!

    • I like that your parents and grandparents put your needs first; and that even though your dad lived apart from you guys, he made consistent efforts to come back home regularly. It’s also great that you’re so close to your parents.

      With regard to hearing “I love you”, when you’re older you realize that actions speak volumes, so even if your family doesn’t say “I love you” much, it’s great that you never doubt it. My dad doesn’t always say it either but his interest in the tiniest details of my life and his devotion to our family speaks volumes.

  3. OMG!!!! I totally love this blogpost and can virtually relate to most of the things you have posted. I am very similar with you in the sense that I find the whole family dynamics thing, quite intriguing. In my family for example, I would say we are very conservative for the most part.Growing up, we didnt really experience much of the whole visiting friends and extended family ish. If we had to visit people, they had to be like close friends for the most part. We too have mostly spent time together for holidays when everyone is around. Although I didnt really like some aspects of the conservativeness of my family, I believe there are some benefits to it. Anyways I love your take on this topic, well done. Take care dear and keep smiling. I love your smile as it makes me smile too,lol..

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