A Family Visit
A little while ago, we had some family visit. My brother’s family to be precise. Their family consists of:
- Child 1 – 4 years old
- Child 2 – 4 months old
From the outside, they appear to have a very traditional family structure in which Dad is not very involved at home; rather, he works long hours and then goes to beer league hockey, ultimate Frisbee, etc. The wife, is also a professional with her own career, which is taking a bit of a backseat for the time being.
They have not had everything handed to them on a silver platter. Child 2 was part of a set of identical twins. One twin died prior to birth. As I said, not everything has been easy. Life has not gone perfectly. But to the outside world, they appear to be persevering.
Anyways, on to the point of this little anecdote. They stayed with us for a night. We all got along well, actually very well. My husband and I were making a good effort to be nice, to be supportive, and to help out with their kids. We constantly played with Child 1 who is currently starved for attention with the new addition to the family. My husband was the all-star uncle who won the heart of that little 4 year old. We even babysat Child 2 for a few hours so that they could have some rare time just with Child 1. We made the visit easier by putting our dog in a different room for the most part (I hate doing this, by my brother hates all dogs and his kids are not very familiar with them and I didn’t feel like an argument). At no point did my brother drive me crazy (he normally does an excellent job of pushing every single one of my annoyance trigger buttons).
Yet, as we listened to Mom and Dad converse with each other, we noticed things were not all right. We noticed little jabs directed at each other:
Maybe if you spent more time with Child 2, you’d know how to rock Child 2 to sleep.
Hurry up and eat your sandwich, I don’t want to hold Child 2 anymore.
Since it’s my birthday, maybe you could change just one diaper.
I’ve learned long ago, that what people are willing to say publicly is not always the same as what goes on behind closed doors. Usually, the tougher moments and the harder conversations are kept for private. So, as they were making these jabs at each other, in our presence, without even seeming to care that we were in the room, I made the assumption that it might be worse behind close doors.
My heart broke a little bit for them.
I spent some time alone with Mom and Child 2 while we went for a walk. For the first time ever with me, she expressed some not so good things to me about how upset she was that my brother is adamant about going on a 5 days guy weekend, rather than helping with the kids and spending his limited vacation days with the family. All-be-it, this isn’t the worst thing you could say about your spouse, but in addition to everything else we heard, it added to my sadness.
The irony is, that I had been worried about this visit. I had been worried about seeing Child 2 again. I had been avoiding seeing him again because of all of my emotions wrapped around that child (see here for more on that). Instead, this weekend, when they left, I worried about them and their family. I worried that maybe these jabs between husband and wife hold more than meets the eye. I worried about my brother’s lack of involvement more than I ever had before, as I saw the potential consequences more vividly. I worried about her ability to do all of this alone all the time. I hoped that this was just a lot of exhaustion shining through and that with time they will settle into being a relatively happy family of 4. I hope my brother and his wife find a way to get through everything they are currently facing and I hope they are actually working on the emotional recovery of losing one of the twins.
But for me, right now, I take this experience as a good reminder that just because someone else appears to have everything, doesn’t mean that they actually do. If you don’t nourish and care for all the relationships that matter to you – whether it be your marriage, or your children, or your family, or your friendships – then it’s easy to let them slip away. No-one leads the perfect life, and everyone has their struggles. I’ve always believed that:
It’s how you handle the adversity that defines your personal character, and not the adversity itself.