This time of year shows joyful families plastered all over the place. Magazines, media, and billboards show families gathered together around brightly lit Christmas trees and lavish holiday feasts.
These scenes can cause stress in your life is you don’t have one of those happy families. My family of origin started happy and ended so sadly. It’s painful. I love how Dr. Meg Jay, author of The Defining Decade–Why Your Twenties matter and How to Make the Most of Them, says, “you can pick your family.” How do you pick your family? Dr. Jay says to start in your 20’s, having relationships with people who elevate you and don’t settle for someone just because they picked you. She says that if you date losers all through your twenties, there is a good chance you will marry one of them. In my own case, watching my parent’s marriage, which eventually fell apart after 40 years, helped me to really pay attention to the families of the guys I was dating. One of the strong points in favor of my husband-to-be was watching how his Dad supported his Mom. Ray did so much to contribute to the work of the household whether it was preparing a meal, doing the dishes or other “woman’s work” as seen by his generation. Ray was cheerful, hardworking and committed to his wife. The unity in their marriage gave me hope that me and my husband-to-be, their son, could manage to do the same.
Dr. Jay talks about “Emma”, below, in her Ted Talk. Emma came from a family that was severely dysfunctional. By the time she was in her 20’s both of her parents were no longer in the picture. (I can’t remember if she cut them off or if they both had passed away. I have loaned my copy to someone and can’t tell you for sure.) Emma came to Dr. Jay for help, hope and how to move forward. You can watch this 15 minute Ted talk to get the gist of the book or you can start at minute 11:46 to 13:28 as she talks about picking your family.
The section on “Love” in her book was the most satisfying to me. It gave all of us that didn’t come from the best examples of healthy relationships hope that we could “pick our family.” It has been critical for me to keep up family traditions, dinners and get-togethers because that is one of the things my parents didn’t do. You can be a transformation person and teach your children the joyful work of family togetherness and how to forge close relationships. It takes work, effort and focus and it is worth every ounce of effort! What if you are way past 20 and it’s too late to pick your family? I don’t think it is ever too late to surround yourself with people you can trust and who are respectful and loving. If you were put in a poor spot of the Vineyard, we are promised in Jacob 5 of the Book of Mormon that the Lord of the Vineyard will always nourish us. I have seen that promise fulfilled in my life over and over.
My husband taught a class at the University of Utah this fall to refugee students only. It was a small class to help these students navigate their education and to be able to graduate and get a job. On the last day of class they discussed what was the most important thing they had learned over the course of the semester. Overwhelmingly, it was Stephen Covey’s idea of stimulus-response—that we have a choice on how we react to any given situation. One student from Iraq said he was angry all of the time because of his background and the experiences he went through. The idea that he was personally responsible for his anger and he could choose differently blew him away.
A nephew of mine took a philosophy class this year at Utah Valley University. I was asking him about it and he said there were 12 principles that were taught with emphasis on Greek and Roman thought—showing the students how ancient, yet timeless these principles were. I asked my nephew which was the one that had the most meaning to him. He said, “That we can’t blame anybody for anything hard in our lives.” He said, ” All I have been doing is blaming others for the painful parts of my life and learning about this principle changed my life.”
Pick your family.
Let go of anger and blame and move forward as Christ teaches. When you do that you will attract like-minded people in your life. Teach your children the dynamic of forgiveness and love that hold a family together. You will be a transformation person that can change generations of dysfunction. You can be a part of one of those ideal holiday scenarios. You may not be related by blood but you will be nourished. The Lord of the Vineyard promises us that.