Reflection on our own family – is it nurturing ? Here are my reflections on mine.

In the last few posts on the family it is clear how important family is in shaping us who we are today. It may be worth while to reflect on our own families to see how close it come to an ideal one ; if it significantly fall short of the ideal then how could have it been better ? and most importantly has it left us with any lasting imprints which are not serving us today  and  has it left us with any gifts which enrich , delight and comfort us?

Virginia Satir in her book “Peoplemaking ” envisions the nurturing family as follows :

Immediately, I can sense the aliveness, the genuineness, honesty and love, I feel the heart and soul present as well as the head. I feel that if I lived in such a family, I would be listened to and would be interested in listening to others; I could openly show my affection as well as my pain and disapproval;I wouldn’t be afraid to take risks because everyone in my family would realize that mistakes are bound to come with my risk taking – that my mistakes are a sign that I am growing. I would feel like a person in my own right – noticed, valued, loved, and clearly asked to notice, value and love others.

How close was your family to this description? I grew up in a family which had lot of these features and always felt loved by my mother, sisters and brothers. My father was little hard to figure out, he only seemed to show emotions when we did something exceptionally well or exceptionally bad. When he was displeased we felt the disapproving force without him even saying anything, just by his look our knees would buckle. His favourite punishment was to make us go into one corner of the room , get us to bend at the waist with our head pointing to the floor, our legs slightly flexed at the knees and our bum sticking up in the air. He would then tell us to stay like that and if we lowered our bum from us getting fatigued he would hit our bum with a slipper and tell us to keep it up in the air. Our leg muscles would ache and we could no longer hold our bums up and often ended with us crying and promising not to repeat the offence.

My first memory of my family are when we were in a small village in India, there was no traffic, everyone know each other, we played and fought with the neighbourhood children. We had no toys but we were never bored, we made our own kites to fly, climbed trees, played in the nearby river and come home tired. There was never a pressure to spend time with our parents, they were there if  we needed them. We were supervised by all the grown ups of the village, if we did something wrong it got reported to our parents or sometimes we got disciplined right on the spot by whoever the grown up happened to be there and witnessed the inappropriate behaviour. My favourite activity in the summer was to go out in the fields and eat baby chick peas, melons, mangos, carrots, chew on the sugar cane sticks, pick lime of a tree – peel it and then suck on the fleshy part; the sourness was refreshing on hot thirsty day, no one liked it except me. Everyone else would just cringed with the thought of me eating lime on its own, this made me enjoys it even more because it was one thing I could do and on one else would or could. I have so many other good memories of my childhood in the village but this is not the place to tell. I visited my village after being away for several decades, it seemed so small from the way I remembered it as a little kid.

We moved to England when I was about 8 years old, it was cold, we could not run around in our bare feet, we had chill blaine because of the cold  and we would huddle near the fire-place. We couldn’t speak English, the teachers at the school didn’t know what to do with us and to occupy us the they got us doing crafts, pottery and basket weaving. My mother got sick but I think she was just depressed from the culture shock. She had no friends, didn’t know the customs and she missed being outside in the fields seeing things grow and harvesting fresh bounty for her family. Here she was stuck in the house with no adults for company until my father came home from work. He came home looking tired and didn’t look to me as though he was in the mood to have a heart to heart talk with my mother or anyone else. He seemed to lack the ability to show affection, but he would always praise good work or good deed. He worked hard and expected others to do the same. My older brother felt the full force of his expectation of doing hard work, not only did he expect him to help around the house but he expected him to do well at school. Doing well at school was emphasized over and over again. When he would ask how we were doing in school , I would always say “great “- I was becoming a great basket weaver !

The early years in England were difficult for my family, we were isolated and if we ever saw any Indian person we would talk about them for days. There were no special programs for newcomers in those days, we had to somehow learn the language ourselves and participate ( or more like blunder) in the society as best we could. We got our uncle to teach us all the English he knew and once we learned several hundred English words we started to translate our language to English, which of course come out all wrong. Once I went to see my friend, his mother come to the door, I translated from my language to English to say ” I want to see Douglas ”  but my translation came out ” I want Douglas”. I don’t know what Douglas’s mother thought of this, but eventually she understood what I wanted.

This isolation in England made our family become more closer than we were in India. We needed each other, we become to genuinely appreciate and love each other, we listened and helped one another, we could share our disappointments  and also have fun with each other. We kept our spirits up by encouraging and helping each other. I remember my older brother keeping me safe from some bullies at school. They wanted to knock my turban off for fun. My older brother with the help of my sister had also taken on the role of making sure the house run smoothly, since my mother was sick. We younger ones had easier time, less responsibility , less expectations and got away with lots from my fathers watchful eye. We loved our older brother , we looked up him, he was a natural sportsman and was always winning prizes but my father never really valued this ability. He wanted us to be good in academia. He had a bad habit of comparing us to children who had done well in school, until one day I broke down and told him never to do that again; to my surprise he never did. My children must have taken after me because they now tell me how to honor them for themselves. Unfortunately, I don’t always have my fathers wisdom and I repeat the same mistakes, so I get reminded again.

The family for all of us was a top priority, my father would tell a story about brothers who stuck together  during troubled times and survived, he would say they were strong like delicate sticks bound together; while another set of brothers did their own thing and they got ” broken ” like a delicate single-stick would  break; but had they been  bound together like the sticks , he would say, they too would have survived. He taught us to be helpful to each other and make the family a top priority. It seems the message got through because even now we would do anything for each other or for the family. My father also left us with another gift. He would tell us stories in which the Sikhs were the heroes and I grew up believing Sikhs culture was the best and I was honored to be a sikh. It was not until I went to university one of my fellow Indian friend burst my bubble. There were lot richer and older tradition in India which I only came to know much later. My father however left me liking myself as a sikh.

Yes, there was lots of disagreements and fight among us, but it didn’t take long for us to forgive each other. My younger brother loved to have a clean house and was alway trying to keep it tidy. The rest of us annoyed him because we didn’t care about the clutter. He would complain and so we would try to keep it tidy too. My older brother would get annoyed because he had to accompany anyone who couldn’t speak English to their medical appointments, so we would help out with that too. I am sure there were lots more areas of disagreement but we always seemed to have worked them out without too much trouble.

Reflecting back I must say my family had lot of attributes which made it easier to learn some of the valuable virtues one needs on a life journey. The things that would have made my family ideal would have been for my farther to show his emotions towards my mother and us. This would have helped me to be in touch with my own emotions more and would have helped my relationship with my loved one. It would have made me a happier and a healthier  person. I hasten to add that my parents tried their best and I know they loved all of us and wanted the very best for us.

I feel immense gratitude and appreciation for the  parents I had and the family that I have. They made it possible for me to work hard, have a career I love, have the family and friends who love me, have confidence and healthy self-esteem, have the ability to speak my mind, voice my thoughts and convictions, have conviction to tell the truth, have good intuition and I feel connected to higher power or universal consciousness. That’s not bad at all, I remain in gratitude.


Chop Wood Carry Water

By Rick Fields, with Peggy Taylor, Rex Weyler, and Rick Ingrasci.

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  1. Nadia

     /  January 15, 2012

    Dad, thank you for those stories which I have heard aloud but never seen written – very moving and very honest. I am not “afraid to take risks because everyone in my family would realize that mistakes are bound to come with my risk taking – that my mistakes are a sign that I am growing. I would feel like a person in my own right – noticed, valued, loved, and clearly asked to notice, value and love others.” I can say that my family too is a strong and loving one, with one difference from your childhood family, though: MY dad has no trouble showing his love for me!

  2. Jim Demas

     /  January 16, 2012

    Dr. H, Loved your column. I was raised in my childhood with my feet in two different cultures and appreciated your story. Our family was tight and evolved around the Greek church and community. The other foot was in school and the neighborhood with other kids trying to understand the Canadian way.

    My dad too worked extemely hard and was not often home. Discipline was left to my mom, chasing us around the house with the wooden spoon. If she caught you, you got a smack across the behind. The best memory was when I was around 13, she was chasing me with the spoon and I got a smack…..the spoon broke, we both laughed outloud and knew that discipline was done and I was grown up.
    Jim Demas


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