How to get to being an ideal family
We all have a dream family in our minds. Different for each one, this idea of the ideal family is built around four fantasies: harmonious cohabitation, fluid communication, natural authority and personal growth. Movement towards the ideal is detrimental for both parents and children. How to avoid it?
- Ideal no. 1: Each loves the other
- Ideal no. 2: Each one talks to the other and listens
- Ideal no. 3: no threat, no blackmail, no punishment
- Ideal no. 4: Each one’s personality blooms
Reconstituted families: the bar is high
Let’s be clear, no one believes in a perfect family anymore! But, we have not given up so far on the ideal family, that of our dreams, the exact opposite of that of our childhood, or that which we cobbled together over time. It floats somewhere between the unconscious and the conscious, adorned with generous virtues (confidence, solidarity, tolerance) or hedonistic ones (well-being, easiness, gaiety).
Each one has their model according to their experience and try to forge it into reality according to their ambitions. “All families have their vision of the ideal, but also of the norm. And it is the gap between the two which makes the specificity of each one. Ideal is necessary, it is a motor which allows one to move forward in life. Difficulties however arise when the ideals are set too high or are too demanding.” But today, demand is at a crescendo. The family is overvalued and has become the ultimate space of happiness…
When the outside feels more threatening, the family seems like the last refuge. That is the reason we want it exclusively to be warm, peaceful and definitely without a flaw!”
Many parents would equally be influenced by the contemporary ideal based on the cult of individualism, happiness and performance. An ideal, which beneath its outward relaxed appearance, is extremely tyrannical. It is not an accident if we, specialists, receive in our practice for consultation, parents who feel overwhelmed and incompetent and are also very bitter.
Hence the necessity to identify beliefs and fantasies which prevent children from building themselves and parents from doing work that is theirs, without too much guilt or devouring doubts.
Ideal no 1: Everyone loves the other
Cohabitation is naturally harmonious. Tenderness, respect and complicity reign, making daily life a small haven of peace.
This beautiful ideal rests on a gross error of judgment. For everyone knows that feelings are always ambivalent, that rivalry is part of familial love, just as annoyance, anger or hate…”Wanting to deny this dimension of human beings between them, is to live in total discord with one’s emotions, and that makes it maddening, within the family; two desires which are opposing each other without pause: that of the other and that to want to be autonomous. “This pendulous swing should be made possible without censure or self-censure. It is sometimes confrontational, painful, but it is an indispensible learning of separation: too close at one time, too far at another. And then, one day, you find the right distance.”
“We hear during consultation, “My kids are lovely!” It is as if the family was a club founded on the similarities of its members. But we do not need to love our child for his qualities or for the pleasure of his company; we have the duty of transmitting to him rules and the best framework of life possible. Let us not forget either that a “lovely” child can transform into one “not so lovely”. Do we then stop loving him? We measure to what point this “sentimentalization” of the family is detrimental for all.”
Ideal no. 2: Each one talks to the other and listens
Communication is fluid, misunderstandings are dispelled immediately. No doors shutting in the face, no cries, no stress. How can conflicts arise in such a milieu?
The vision is no doubt enchanting. “Because relations are more precarious today than in older times, conflict is lived today as a threat, associated with disagreement, and therefore a possible explosion of the couple and the family unit. So we avoid everything that can be a source of discord. We negotiate, market, and seduce but, never confront. It is bad calculation because conflicts cleanse the relations and allow each one to be recognized in his role and his value.” Each repressed conflict nourishes a subterranean violence, which finishes by blowing up or by turning one against the self.
In consultation, we find moreover, that for most parents, to communicate well means to talk a lot: the new ill of the century. Too many words, too many explanations, too many repetitions finish up by leading to the most opposite of the expected result. Children don’t listen to anything anymore! A family, is like a couple and we don’t need to say things to each other all the time.
“Non transparence is a necessary marker of the difference between generations. Parents live emotional and verbal intimacy with their children as if it is a proof of true complicity between them. Children, they feel caged in this relation and some go on to adopt extreme behavior (addictions, self-mutilations…) translating their desire to separate. Conflicts permit them to have more oxygen.”
Ideal no. 3: No threat, no blackmail, no punishment
Authority is superfluous and the child integrates rules easily. He accepts “all by himself” that the ban imposed by his parents is the best way to help him grow up. This fantasy, widely shared, has a thick skin. “In collective unconsciousness, there is this idea that a good education allows parents to do away with authority. We observe that in sessions. At the root of this ideal there is a vision of the child who will have everything to become great, and that it is simply necessary to water him and place him in the sun in order that he blooms like a plant.”
This view is devastating because it creates an impasse in the duty of transmission of the parent. We must remind ourselves that the work actually consists in explaining the limits and rules to children before imposing them, with a view to “humanize” and “civilize” them, as my colleague Françoise Dolto aptly put it: especially since they are the first ones to use the guilt of their parents and know how to play them beautifully. The fear of breaking family harmony turns therefore against the adults. “Children having seen their difficulty in imposing a constraint on them are going to use this fear of their parents more or less openly. The results: blackmail, bargaining and parents lose their credibility!”
Each one’s personality blooms
Personal development is on everybody’s lips. The desire for a family life, intense and joyous prevails on the condition that one does not sacrifice their life as a couple nor their individual liberty. The family should be not just be a place to learn, but it must now also be a place for personal fulfillment for each one.
A difficult equation to resolve, the modern individual would have seriously lowered his tolerance threshold to frustration. Through personal development, we hear most of the time “absence of constraints”, is the preliminary condition to a happy family life, an epicurean tendency. “The family has become an “instance” which should guarantee the happiness of all. Paradoxically, this conception disengages its members and makes them irresponsible, for everything happens as if the unit functions in isolation. If one is happy, it is a good family; if the happiness machine jams, it is a bad family. We can see that this “totemisation” causes insecurity and is narcissistic.” What is the antidote to this toxic conception of the “happy family”? It consists in large part to not forget that, for children, the family is a place where one learns to separate the selves so that one can fly on their own wings. How can there be a desire to leave the nest if each and every desire is fulfilled here?
Reconstituted families: the bar is high
Familial re-composition can either help to overcome the weight of the ideal…or work at setting the bar higher still! It is the second which is more often the case. “The pressure is often unbearable, for children as well as parents. The former do not want to be responsible for a new failure and the latter have a tendency to deny difficulties.” However, it is possible to reduce the pressure.
Firstly, it is necessary to give yourself time: time for each one, the step-parents and step-children to know each other better, to find their place and occupy their territory, at their own rhythm and without accountability. Precipitation is most often an accelerator to disagreement. Saying everything is obviously not recommended but of course, you should communicate. And, especially you must express what is not right. Rebuilding a family is daring to express to your new partner your doubts, your fears, your disappointments, and your hurt when they manifest. This is important to avoid misunderstanding and generate resentment.
And since “only love does not suffice”, it is respect that we can invoke: in stating clearly that, in a family and more so in the case of a reconstituted family, we are not obliged to love one another but we are obliged to respect each other. This dividing line cleans up relationships.
A final pitfall to avoid: comparison. Comparing your new lifestyle with your previous family, or with your friends, is useless: for educating, is to provide proof of creativity and singularity, two qualities which are particularly important in reconstituted families.
Finally, when we feel overwhelmed or hurt, it is necessary to request for help from a therapist, a mediator or family counselor, to avoid dysfunctions that take root and become worse.
My family therapy redistributes the role of each person legitimately, in order to facilitate an education that is fulfilling for everyone and this, at all levels within the family.
See this chapter in my work Mon corps me dit by Editions Guy Trédaniel