When it comes to beliefs about family relationships and expectations, I have come to learn that what is right, wrong, good, or bad, is all in the eye of the beholder. While there is an old saying, apparently, that blood is thicker than water, this does not ring true in every instance. In my own extended family I have seen such differences that one might never realize that these two sets of people are related by flesh and blood, and/or marriage.
Although my father and his sister (my aunt) were raised in the same household, by the same parents, and are just two years apart in age, you would never know by looking objectively at the family units that my father and my aunt eventually created. As they were growing up, this brother and sister pair were very much alike, spent considerable time with one another, and really went out of their way to protect and defend one another as siblings and family members should. They enjoyed happy upbringings in a comfortable home, with loving parents.

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Their parents, my grandparents were hardworking, attended church on Sundays, and placed a lot of emphasis on their children’s education and preparation for success in the future. While my father and my aunt were literally raised generations ago, they were raised with the expectation that they would work hard, get a great education, and embark on starting a career and a family upon graduation from college, which is precisely what each of them did. That is about the last time there was a genuine similarity between the brother and sister, other than their love for one another and their background genetics.

Immediately after college, my father and my aunt enrolled in graduate school, my father in business and my aunt in education. They each attained a master’s degree in their respective fields, as wished for by their parents, and became employed in a large company, and a state school system respectively. They each fell in love and married, and were determined to start families. I have multiple cousins right around the same age as my brother and I, and distinctly remember going to my aunt’s house to visit. What a wonderful shock to my system. There were televisions in every room, no one had a set bed time, and we were free to wander all over town, or as far as our little legs would take us. There were literally drawers full of candy, a refrigerator full of soda and beer, and a garage full of bikes and skateboards for the taking. I remember the house being very well lived in, and actually kind of messy, in a charming way.

This was in sharp contrast to the house in which we were being raised, where my mother and father repeatedly reminded us that everything had a place to be stored, that candy and soda would rot our beautiful teeth, and that our curfews, bed times, and boundaries were important components of discipline that would bode well for us as we grew into adulthood. Naturally, we were far more welcome guests in my aunt’s home than vice versa. To this day, I recall my mother freaking out over wet towels left on the bathroom floor, the constant slamming of doors and the perpetual opening and closing of the refrigerator door—in some sort of twisted hope that the next time it was opened by my cousins, some soda and candy would magically appear.

Much to my grandmother’s chagrin, these differences translated as one might anticipate, into our work as students. My brother and I were watched like hawks and implored to push ourselves in academics, in athletics, and in life. My cousins by contrast were allowed to skip school to go to the beach or to go skiing in the winter, and it never appeared that report card time was a cause for concern or fear in their household. Laid back is the phrase I recall my parents saying, over and over and over again.

As luck would have it all six of my grandmothers’ grandchildren will finish high school without much issue. Both my brother and I will go off to college one day, while only two of the four cousins will even attempt further schooling. We will likely attend top tier schools, while they struggle at community colleges. Our parents will demand that we be career focused, while my aunt is more concerned with her kids having fun and enjoying youth, always taking time to stop and smell the roses, while us serious cousins stayed on schedule and on the track set forth by my parents.

What is perhaps the coolest aspect of having such incredibly divergent values and expectations within one family, is that we all love on another unconditionally, and no one is sitting back and judging one another. My family is good with how my aunt has chosen to raise her family, and she is good with how my parents have done the same. My grandmother probably struggles with the contrast a bit more, as our family is far more in keeping with how she raised my dad and my aunt.

While there are all the stark contrasts noted above, there are also some distinct comparisons and commonalities. We all go to church on Sundays and respect our faith. We all believe in self-accountability, and taking responsibility for our own actions, be it good, bad or otherwise. We are all loving and kind human beings, and enjoy being in nature, listening to music and sharing a good meal with one another. I have learned that at the end of the day, family is family, and despite the inherent differences in lifestyle and attitude, it is so very critical to focus on the core common themes and to accept that we are as much alike, as we are different from one another. I have come to view these difference as a blessing and another means of relating to one another without expectations or judgments. Family first!

  • Bunting, J.D., Diniz, L., Reppen, R. (2013). Grammar and Beyond 4. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.