Last weekend I attended a dual bridal shower for two of my cousins. It was really fun to see all of my family members and to share in the excitement and celebrate the next phases of their lives. It was also nice to catch up with family members I hadn't seen in awhile, and unfortunately some drama ensued (but luckily I wasn't involved in any of it).
Sadly, a lot of the drama seemed to come from a sense of insecurity, and it was very interesting to see this in others, since it's something I often struggle with myself.
First, I think my family is in a state of transition. My cousins and I are all roughly the same age; the oldest is 30 and the youngest is 20. Since we are all in very similar points in our life comparisons get made quite often, but when we were younger the differences seemed insignificant.
Perhaps one cousin was a star athlete, while another an excellent student, and another struggling with schoolwork. Regardless, each child still had unlimited opportunity, and any hard times we encountered seemed minor.
As time has gone on though, the variance has gotten larger. One cousin just attended a top school to get an MBA and had a third child a few months ago, another cousin dropped out of college and just got his car repossessed, another cousin has a wonderful marriage with two kids and lives in a nice home in an upscale suburb, while yet another dropped out of college to follow a boyfriend she thought would be a professional athlete but is now unemployed, and they have a child together.
What makes things even more challenging is that I come from a judgmental family. My husband's family is on the other end of the spectrum. There is no "right" path, his family didn't ingrain in him that college was a necessity, and family members would never criticize the life choices of another. But my family on the other hand has a very specific definition of "success." One is supposed to go to college, get married, have kids, become a stay at home parent if you're a woman, and live a nice upper middle class life in the suburbs.
So when one of us strays from this path, we know there will be disappointment. At the very least, our grandparents may say something like "that's not the life we had hoped for you," and even more likely, the parents of the straying cousin are likely to feel embarrassed and try to cover up for their child. It's gotten to the point where it's challenging at times to speak to my aunts and uncles whose children are not meeting this level of "success" because there are so many topics I feel uncomfortable asking about.
The typical questions like "where is your son currently working?" seem insensitive when he can only find part time manual labor after dropping out of school. Still, I try very hard to ask kind, and open ended questions. I ask how their children are, what they do for fun, etc. I find that talking to the actual cousin is actually quite easy, and that it's usually the embarrassed parents who are more awkward.
But unfortunately the cousins also feel bad at times. One of my cousins refused to come to the shower early on. She told her mother that she felt bad next to all these rich and beautiful women, and she really couldn't afford to come. Her mother wound up paying for her daughter's gift, and I was so glad she changed her mind, especially because I had a wonderful time catching up with her.
I've been really thinking about what she said though, that she feels bad next to all of these rich and beautiful women, and I wondered if we all feel that way. I know at times I don't feel like I measure up. My cousins are all so gorgeous and many of them have the luxury of not working, and seem to have time to stay in shape and keep their home in order, while I feel like I'm always in a state of chaos.
But interestingly enough, I noticed everyone seeming a bit insecure at times during the shower. One of my cousins talked about her husband finding a new job. She said that he quit his old one, spent time with the family for a few weeks, and then found a new and even better job. I'm so very happy for their family, but I happen to know he was actually let go. I don't blame her for not divulging this information, but I found it interesting that I might sit there feeling a bit envious if I didn't know the truth, and how many of us are only showing the good stuff and hiding the challenges we face?
And when I saw my cousin lying I felt bad for her. I know how hard it can be at times to keep up a brave face, and I wished she felt comfortable enough with us so that she could tell the truth and lean on us for support during those difficult times. But ultimately when you have a competitive and judgmental family, you try to save face at all costs. Sitting there though, I decided that I didn't want my facade to make anyone else feel down.
So I started telling the truth. I shared some of the good things in my life, but I also shared some of the not so great things. I told them how hard it was at times to live farther away from family, and how I had a really hard time last year when I first became a manager. I told them how tiring travel can be at times, but that I like it some of the time too. And a funny thing happened, my cousins started opening up.
Those that were struggling shared some of what they were going through, and I could almost see their burdens lift of their shoulders as they told their stories. One said that she feels bad because she's in her late twenties and is only now finishing up school and starting to find her way toward a career. I told her that going back to school is an amazing accomplishment which she should feel so proud of. I also told her that my husband dropped out of two colleges before figuring out what he wanted to do, so she's not alone.
And throughout the day I had wonderful, real, and honest conversations like that with the people that I love. Sure, they may not walk away thinking that my life and my family are perfect, but they did walk away knowing that I love and care for them, and feeling understood and supported, which is so much better.