The Old Normal: Learning To Work With The Family You’ve Got

December 7, 2012  |  


If you’ve ever spoken to adults who grew up poor, they’ll often tell you that they didn’t know they realize they were poor. They didn’t know they were missing out on things wealthier people had, until they had an encounter with said wealthy people. That’s how my life was in a sense. But  not financially. I grew up in a middle class family; but the longer I live and the more I look around, I realize…and people are never too shy to tell me that my family structure is not normal.

Apparently, coming from a happy, two-parent home is not the norm anymore…if it ever was.

The first time I realized everybody didn’t come from a house like mine was when Derek, my personal bully, told me, in first grade, that he didn’t have a father. Then in third grade, I watched as my little buddy Shanesha, who also grew up without her father, became enamored with mine. She would tell me just how fine she thought my daddy was. (Talk about awkward.) In middle school, I watched as my friends, who came from a two parent home, looked on in shock and amazement while my parents gave each other a quick peck before leaving the house. In high school, the girl who would become my best friend, would spend hours upon hours over at my house so she could escape the drama at her own and do her homework in peace. In college, I would come across men who had daddy issues, women who had mommy issues and people whose family dysfunction seemed to follow them wherever they went. You would think, after all of those examples, and countless more, I might have had an inkling that my family, with two parents, two kids and a now-deceased dog, wasn’t exactly the norm.

I didn’t. And honestly, I still don’t until someone reminds me.

Recently, my sister, her boyfriend and I were talking about the notion of “perfect” and how people had tried to assign that characteristic to either myself, my sister, or our family collectively. Naturally, I don’t have to tell you that my family’s not perfect. It’s a term that scares me, actually. To believe someone is perfect, only means that sooner or later, they’ll end up disappointing you. But I digress. Though my sister’s boyfriend agreed we weren’t perfect; (he’s been around us long enough to know better), he did admit that he could see how people on the outside would think that. In fact, he once thought that and admitted that the more he was around our family, the more he started searching for flaws, things that would put a crack in what he thought was a facade. He honestly believed that we were putting on airs, hiding some type of family scandal or shame, we didn’t want people to know about.
He said, eventually he learned that we were who we said we were. A family, who was far from perfect, but a family that was close, that loved each other, and honestly had been blessed by God. That’s the only way I can think to describe it.

Truth is, I struggled to write this story because I really didn’t know what to say. But what I’ve learned, and what writing this story has affirmed, is that my family is normal. And so are the families that lack a father, or the families whose lives are riddled with turmoil and dysfunction, or the families that are headed by parents who can’t stand each other most of the time. There is no such thing as normal. We can’t choose our families, we’re born into them. Our job is just to make the best of what we’ve been given and try to do better for the next generation.

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  • Kaori

    There is nothing ‘normal’ about a dysfunctional family. Also, some people have families where there is no ‘making the best’.

  • thatonegirl

    I think it depends on where you grew up. I grew up in a neighborhood that wasn’t necessarily a black neighborhood but it had its fair share of black households and all my black friends grew up in a two parent homes. When my parents divorced when I was 22 I was almost embarrassed to tell anyone. Point being two-parent households are more common than you think.

  • Nikki

    My parents met at 18 and got married at 26. I grew up in a two-parent household, and it has its advantages and disadvantages. There were times where my parents would fight and my dad would sleep in the guest room, this lasted for months at a time. At one point I begged my parents to just get a divorce and get it over with. (To them, divorce is never an option) Or when I get in trouble, they tell each other so I get in trouble twice…