All or Something
“Family life is too intimate to be preserved by the spirit of justice. It can be sustained
by a spirit of love which goes beyond justice.”
Is it okay if the whole family isn’t together? This was the gate agent’s question as we attempted to get on a different flight.
Obviously, the answer would depend on a number of factors. How old are the kids? How experienced is everyone with flying? Could I see who I’d potentially be sitting next to, and get back with you?
For a number of families, these questions wouldn’t matter. The answer would be no. Unequivocally, no. Some parents cannot seem to tolerate the idea of the family doing anything if it’s not the whole family together. Two siblings can’t go to the mall without taking the third one. Mom can’t take just one child with her on the trip, that’d be unfair. If one kid is left out of anything, then that’s gonna ruin everything.
These are not the attitudes of a healthy family. Equal opportunity is a great principle, to be sure, but such balance can be pursued over time; it doesn’t always have to be equal right this minute.
Some good practices:
- Take kids separately on trips. Whether it’s to the hardware store, or a flight to the big city for a quick business trip, a special voyage for just one kid and just one parent can be incredibly special for both.
- Give special privileges at certain age milestones. The oldest kid should experience things earlier than the rest. Even a 15-minute later bedtime can mean a lot to your 9-year-old, and establish a precedent for the 8- and 6-year-olds to look forward to. And resist the urge to take advantage of the two-for-one sale and buy both your 14- and 12-year olds their first phone at the same time. Stagger it, and you’ll feel a growing respect from your kids.
- Allow for some flexibility on fun plans. Its perfectly okay that my son is staying in Atlanta with friends this weekend, while Jenny and I meet some extended family in Nashville to visit our daughter in college. I don’t want it to be this way every time, but it’s fine, and it should be fun, this time.
Healthy families, over time, find a balance between separateness and togetherness, between individuality and community. Unhealthy families either care too little about who’s with whom, or rigidly insist that it’s either all the family or nothing.