On Being the Family Facilitator

I read an article recently that talked about the fact that most families have a family facilitator.  This is usually a daughter who takes on the role of sustaining family traditions after the parents become too old to do so or pass away.  The family facilitator becomes the focal point for family communications and gatherings.  I wish that I had saved that article as I believe it describes my role with my extended family.

I have been struggling with some family issues related to personal attacks on me and my family by sister #6.  It is a fact that we don’t see eye to eye.  In fact, very few members of the family see eye to eye with this sister.  She is not a bad person.  She just tends to hold the rest of us at arms’ length and is distrustful of us and our intentions.

She also tends to blame me for her terrible childhood.  I don’t know why she doesn’t hold our parents more accountable.  I am the oldest and did a lot of caretaking from a very young age, but there is only 9 years from oldest to youngest, and I was a child at the same time she was a child.  She just does not get that when I was 12 or 13, I did a lot, but I certainly was not the one with ultimate responsibility for the family.

One of my sisters describes her as passive aggressive.  You don’t hear anything from her for extended periods of time even if you reach out to her and then when you do hear from her she comes out blazing.

When you disagree with her, however respectfully, you are “invalidating her feelings” and she has to establish “boundaries” with you.  Funny that it doesn’t work the other way.

It is a fact that people to whom we are most close know the ways to hurt you the most and this is true with sister #6.  She knows that family is the most important thing to me so she attacks us and our relationships when she gets upset with me.  She has been mean and a bully not only to me, but to other family members.

Sometimes, I don’t even think she knows that she comes across this way.  But, in my opinion there is no excuse for an educated, 48 year old woman to be allowed to continue to act out in these ways.  She’s always gotten a pass from family because that’s “just the way she is.”

Here is a picture of sisters #6 and #7 when they were little.  Sister #6 has never met a stranger.  In fact, she was known for bringing strangers home from the park when she was a little kid.  Adult strangers.  Strange strangers.  She also was always self absorbed.  On more than one occasion, we would leave for a trip and get a few hours into it before realizing that she was not with us.  We would return home to find her wrapped up in her own little world totally clueless that she was left behind.

Out of the eight of us siblings, six of us find solace in one another’s company.  Sister #7 is completely estranged from the family.  And sister #6 just sits on the sidelines.  The six of us that are close understand and survive the dysfunction of our childhood by sharing our memories and time with one another.  We have established family traditions with each other.  It doesn’t mean that we all agree on religion, politics, or even basic things like raising children and family, but we respect each other’s differences and delight in each other’s company.

Sister #6, however, trusts strangers before her own siblings.  This is not necessarily wrong, it’s just different.  And it’s her loss as she does not get the benefit of the unconditional love a family can provide just by spending time together.

I also read an article recently titled Why I Fired My Father (and Maybe You Should Too).  It talks about discontinuing contact with those family members who do not contribute to the relationship.  It’s a business approach to family relationships.  I believe that there are times when this is a necessary reality, and I have discussed this option with regard to sister #6 with members of my family.

I take my role as family facilitator seriously.  I never realized that there might be a name for it, but I feel that my life has been enhanced by making the effort to keep family together and establishing traditions with them.  Sister #6 sees this as controlling.  Okay, I am the oldest and I do have bossy tendencies, but I am not going to try and force anyone to be involved who does not want to be involved.

My oldest daughter and I talked about it, and she believes that we should not give up on her.

I raised her right.

So, I will not give up on her, but I will hold her at arms’ length.  If she attacks, I will defend.  If she needs my help, I will consider it on terms that are acceptable to me and my family.  I will try not to take her attacks personally, but I will not be a patsy either.

And I will hope that someday she will see that there is some benefit to the warm embrace of a loving family.

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