What's the difference between family and good friends?
We've all heard it before: You can't pick your family members and, boy, I know there are a lot of people out there who wish they could.
A ton of them have written me with questions regarding their estrangements or fallings-out with family members.
I have to admit that each time I read one, my heart drops a bit. We all seem to be aware of just how important it can be to our lives to maintain some sort of healthy loving supportive relationship with the people we are related to.
The problem remains, however, that sometimes these same people can cause our biggest strife.
I don't believe in adhering to societal law or the "should" law, for the sake of adhering. I don't subscribe to the fact that we should love and honor and give to someone who is heinous and seething to us, regardless of the blood ties.
But many of the stories that come in to me are not of the deep, heinous dark nature. Most of them are filled with anecdotes that are superficially complicated and laced with a power struggle, or miscommunication.
That's easy for me to say when it's not my life but, all things considered, many of these stories involve patterns of history with a lot of judging, and criticizing.
One of the most debilitating struggles with family members seems to be how we so often like to box each other in. Throughout our childhoods and young adult lives, we grow to know the people we live with the most. And, in that system, somewhere, we tend to put our family members in a somewhat confining box system.
"She's the rebel," "he's the brainiac," "she's the underachiever," "he's the loner," "she's detached," "he's negative," and on and on.
I imagine this comes from our primal need to be able to sum each other up in as brief a definition as we can. The problem is, people change over time.
I've had hundreds of people share with me that in all they create and accomplish in life, they often go home and turn into noodles.
They become the person they were years ago because of the mere association with their family members. Some people make it out of the box with a boom. But in order to accomplish that, something pretty major has to happen in your life, something usually so major it affects the lives of your family members.
If not that, then it can feel impossible to get your family to see you for who you know you are now.
My suggestion is to think carefully about whether you box in your family. If you do, think about stopping. It can be challenging but amazing in what it can open.
People are supposed to move and grow, and fall, and rise. It's the nature of life yet, somehow, this reality can be tough to see within the family dynamic.
How often have we heard that life is short? Well, it is.
And here's the deal: If you happen to be estranged, or almost estranged, from a family member but you find yourself thinking about them and wondering how life is, and wishing maybe it weren't the way it is, then really think about what you want.
We have so much more power over what we do with our lives and the people we allow in than we realize.
Think carefully about what you want for your life now, for your life later and your life way later.
Your family members are the ones who might be able to be there for you in a way no one else can, through the good, the bad and the ugly.
So, wake up tomorrow and take a careful look at your relationships with your brother, your sister, your mom and dad, your kids, your grandparents and, remember, they are the chosen people in your life, for better or for worse.
If you can make it better, try.
There isn't a person on the planet who regrets making the effort to bring a family member back to the front row of their life.