Buckle down, this one will be long.
Growing up as an only child, and without the influences of a wholesome family, I grew up thinking that all families were as dysfunctional as was portrayed on TV. It’s what sells, right? (I remember seeing a t-shirt celebrating it with the words “putting the ‘fun’ back in dysfunctional”). Bickering, backstabbing, and sarcasm were among the most frequent tools used to perpetuate chaos in family relationships. And so our entertainment media succeeded, intentionally or not, to instill in me a belief that families were all defective as a matter of course. Growing up by myself, and then moving to a different country as a child, helped to isolate me from experiences that contradicted that faulty belief.
The first challenge to my misconception happened in the dining room of a family that my teenage brain decided to visit. I had known them for many years but never had reason to go see them, and still didn’t, but I went anyway, and they were happy that I was there to play with their son (he had three sisters but no brothers). I can’t tell you how old I was, or what we did that day, but three things I witnessed were so shocking that I still have vivid memories of how I felt. The first was the father issuing strict orders to his rowdy children to settle down, which I had fully expected to be ignored with disdain. Instead, they complied happily. I was speechless, and stood there trying to understand what had happened. Such a minor thing in hindsight, but to me it was world-changing: it was the first sign that families do not, as a matter of course, do everything in their power to frustrate and diminish each other.