Family, the most overrated institution
IF ever we wanted an example of why the "perfect family" is a shibboleth, we need look no further than the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle's own.
Ever since Meghan joined the British royals entitled ranks, it's her family and their hijinks that have dominated headlines.
Even while she's been with us in the Southern Hemisphere, her half-sister, Samantha Markle, the go-to bleat-hole for anything that might taint the duchess's glowing and growing reputation, denigrated her efforts.
Meghan was giving an address to the University of the South Pacific in Suva last week, where she talked about the importance of education for young women. She spoke about her education and how the effort to fund it through work and scholarship was worth it.
As predictable as night follows day, Samantha described her sister, as a "liar" and "delusional".
Not only does Samantha need to cease policing everything the Duchess says and does, she needs to get a life.
The less said about Meghan's dad, Thomas, the better.
This made me reflect on how, despite all the good things that are happening in Meghan's life, how she appears to have been blessed by the genes, brains, talent, hard-work, fortune, romance, fertility and compassion fairies and all their associates as well, when it comes to family - with the exception of her mother - she was defrauded.
How many of us can relate to that?
There's a reason the adage "you can choose your friends but not your family" resonates - and not just among royals.
Who can forget the US political attack ad done against Arizona Republican Paul Gosar by six of his nine siblings? Disgusted by their brother's political and ideological stances on a range of issues (supporting white nationalism, being a bigot, and "trad(ing) a lot of the values we had at our kitchen table"), the siblings, after publicly disparaging him, asked voters to side with the opposition candidate, David Brill, instead.
But it's not just royals and politicians disclosing their issues with various family members and feuding before our eyes. It happens on social media all the time.
Couples going through relationship breakups, siblings and parents arguing with each other and their children, engaging in one-upmanship, all feature, particularly on Facebook.
Instead of confronting the person causing the angst and pain, these people air their dirty linen, not so it will be miraculously cleaned and sorted, but so everyone else can share the stench.
Why do some families behave like this?
Perhaps the more appropriate question is why, when so many of us have dysfunctional families with relations we don't particularly get on with or even like, are we surprised?
Why do we persist with the myth of the "perfect family" and then feel let down when ours doesn't stack up? Are we holding ourselves up to an impossible ideal?
The simple answer is, yes.
I think one of the reasons we tend to cling to the notion that family is "all we have" and we must defend, tolerate the intolerable and support the institution at all costs, is because we romanticise the role it plays in our lives.
Instagram, Facebook feeds etc are filled with images and stories of curated, flawless and loving family lives.
There are those who continuously represent their family - immediate and extended - as if they're a brand. They're "simply the best" at everything - holidays, birthdays, loving, caring and sharing. And we all buy it, approving and wanting to be "like" it.
Popular culture persists in presenting us with the fairy-tale, whether it's in movies, TV shows, magazine spreads or blogs. For decades, programs from Leave it to Beaver, to The Addams Family, The Brady Bunch, and Modern Family, have depicted a range of TV families who, even with all their foibles, eccentricities and dramas manage to rise above huge differences (ideological, political, sexual, religious) and bond because, you know, love.
It's the Disneyfication of the family.
Problem is, it sets up unrealistic assumptions which we cannot meet.
Families, just like the humans that comprise them, can be competitive, judgmental, have diverse values and ways of being and believing. While they can bring untold happiness and support (and those who experience that are very fortunate), they are also the most common site of great trauma and betrayal as the victims and survivors of domestic violence, childhood sexual abuse and neglect will tell you.
Still, we persist in upholding the family, reminding ourselves that "blood is thicker than water."
We need to give ourselves permission not to feel like failures or guilty if our family doesn't live up to some impossible ideal. If our annual get-togethers are argumentative, distressing reminders of why we only see each other at Christmas or weddings and funerals.
Just because we're related to someone, doesn't mean we have to like let alone love them. We choose our friends because of shared values, ethics, interests and because of genuine affection and trust. A lack of competition rather than the opposite.
We have a family because of shared blood and history.
Fortunately, many of us experience genuine pleasure in being related to decent and kind people.
But many more of us can identify with the Markle Debacle, where our relatives are an embarrassing, hostile reminder of why some of us have no choice but to excise them from our lives and why we feel so much better for having done that.
Karen Brooks is a Courier-Mail columnist.