Wednesday, April 30, 2014

humansofny and the power of family

My sister Charity recommended that my family follow "humansofny" on Instagram a while back.  Although they post too much (I can't keep up with stuff like that), the ones I have seen are so interesting.  I love things that take you into the mind of someone else, and that put you in their shoes even for a moment in time.

It inspires me.

But a recent one made me kind of sad:

Now, of course I don't know anything more than this snippet about this man.  Maybe he was having a bad day.  Or maybe he comes from a dysfunctional family.  Maybe he has trouble with bonding.  Or maybe he just got in a fight with his mom.  I don't know.  But my heart aches for him because for whatever reason, he doesn't realize the glory of family life.  

Maybe he's never had the opportunity to stroke a newborn baby's head and drink in their intoxicatingly sweet smell.  He may have never had a child look up into his eyes and say "I love you."  Maybe he's never sacrificed something for a family member in need and felt the love that can't help but well up and overflow because of he's been given the chance to really serve them.  

But for whatever reason, this post made me overflow with gratitude that I have.  

And I try not to take that for granted.  I know there are so many broken families out there.  I know there are so many who suffer and ache and who are lonely.  But we all have people we share the same name with that we could reach out to more.  

Maybe they need to be forgiven.  

Maybe they need a hug today.  

Maybe they need an out-of-the-blue phone call.  

Or maybe they just need some unconditional love.

Some families need to leave a past of abuse and heart-ache and be strong enough to start over emotionally.  Which I know is easy for me to say because I haven't had to do that, but I ache for those who do.  Many have written me heart-wrenching emails from this blog and I think of them often.  I send prayers up to Heaven that they can work things out.  Because I just know families are worth fighting for.

I disagree with this man because I believe there's oh so much more than a practical reason to stay together.  Sure it's tough sometimes.  Sure we disagree.  We may wonder sometimes how in the world we could share the same genes.  Sometimes being in a family takes work.  But it's worth it.  Because families are what's going to keep us going in the long-run.  The family is the building block of society.  If the family fails, society fails.

And I believe that with all my heart.

For a myriad of unrelated reasons we found ourselves out to dinner last night (that's an extremely rare happening for us).  I was late because of a church meeting I had to attend, but as I walked up to that little booth crammed with people I love my heart spilled over with gratitude that we are a family.  That my parents made family a priority.  That their parents did too.  And that my great, great grandparents made sacrifices so that we could be there in that spot at that moment laughing at Lucy's antics, telling each other about our "happies" and "sads" from the day, and feeling the love we share.

It's far from a perfect family we have here, but I don't want to ever take this gift for granted.  

And I want to work my heart out to make it strong and united, and help any other families I can along the way.

I sure hope this guy finds that happiness and joy family brings some day.


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  2. Thanks for this post, there has never been any stronger bond than the one I have with my wife.

    There is no stronger selfless love that what I feel for my child.

    Our family is my strength, my meaning, my everything.

  3. One of the many reasons that I like your blog Shawni is that even though you may disagree with someone, you recognize that you are not that person...and that their perceptions are based on their experiences which we know nothing about. And that is something I see lacking in many blogs...too much judgment and little empathy.

    Do you have the book? It is fascinating.

  4. I think some of us are just plain lucky in regard to the circumstances we were born into. Parents who really care. Aunts who go out of their way. Brothers who know the value of loyalty.
    However, we must not forget that some families are just plain disfunctional. I have seen friends reach out to their loved ones time and time again, only to encounter the same selfish, heartless, could-not-care-less response. Hence whilst I am glad for my family, I can understand why someone else may choose to stay far away from his/her own.

  5. That is pretty sad.

    I have a large family, and the beauty of it is that you have built-in friends and, well, family members who care about you and love you unconditionally. EVEN if you wouldn't have that much in common besides being family members. So that is sad that someone would look at a family member and think, "meh, I don't really like you...we're done."

  6. I follow humansofny and that post made me so sad for that guy. My life would be meaningless without family and I'm pretty sure most other people's would too. It may not be their biological relations that people call family but we all have family of some kind- the people that we lean on and care for and get through life with.

  7. The other night my 8-year-old said, “Mom, I feel sorry for Calvin” (of the cartoon strip Calvin & Hobbes) “because he doesn’t eat dinner with his family. He just goes and watches TV while he eats. That must be so boring!”

    :-) Made me smile.

  8. While I do agree that family is important (I'm so happy and lucky with my own), I disagree with this statement of yours: "Some families need to leave a past of abuse and heart-ache and be strong enough to start over emotionally."

    I think it's too simply put. How can a daughter start over with her father, who abused her sexually? How can a son reconcile with his mother, when she hit him for years and years? How can a mother forgive her son, when he stole her money and sold every valuable thing in her house? How can someone leave the past, when the past determines everything that the future holds? There's an end to forgiving and forgetting, even when it comes to family.

    And yes, family is the cornerstone of society, but you've got to replace a broken brick, even if it is the cornerstone.

    I've seen and heard some heart breaking stories, where leaving your family behind only brought a better and richer future. Love isn't unconditional, although we want to believe it is. Love needs a lot of work, and when your family doesn't put in the work, sometimes actively works against love, then it's better to say goodbye.

    And yes, that's an awful decision, and I'm sure it doesn't happen lightly. I bet people who had to do this wish for a different family, the feeling of "belonging", the feeling of security. But I'm also sure leaving your family is better than the alternative, for these people.

    Anyway, that's my two cents. And let me be clear: if everyone was so careful, so passionate about family as you are, then we would all be a big happy family in this world. So no offense meant directly to you, I just happened to disagree with a part of your message.

  9. Joneke, thanks for your words. Well said. I actually read that sentence "Some families need to leave a past of abuse and heart-ache and be strong enough to start over emotionally." to mean that sometimes abuse and pain within in family is so intense or serious that we DO have to cut ties completely and start over. Forgiveness is essential to our own souls, and has very little to do with the person who wronged us, but everything to do with our own healing. Forgiveness does not require a continued relationship or contact with that person.
    Rah Rah for families and for Shawni and all the people who work so hard in their own family to show that a family can be the most wonderful thing in life. And Rah Rah for the people who weren't given wonderful families but forge their own - same last name or not.

  10. What I got from those words is she was saying it's okay to leave that past family if it means you need to in order to create a new happy family.

  11. Just because a grown child may choose to forgive an abusive parent - in their heart - so they can move on and live their life - DOES NOT mean that they should initiate contact with their abuser. Remaining in contact with family members just because they share the same last name is NOT good advice. Not always.

    All families are not like yours, Shawni, unfortunately. Your lives and your children's lives are SO sheltered from the horrible things that go on in some lives, in some families. In a way that's good, but they need to realize that not all families are happy.

    There is a saying - "Yes, I cut you out of my life, but you handed me the scissors."

    Sad. But true.

  12. Not everybody has a family. Not everyone has a family near them. What if people treated everyone else like family?

  13. I grew up in a very dysfunctional family; however, I chose to not be a victim when I was old enough to make that choice. I always wanted to have a normal family, so I took everything I hated about my parents and changed when I became a parent. I missed out on a normal childhood, but my children and grandchildren did not because they understand the importance of family. I took 8 young girls out to a "tea" a few months ago. They all live in a children's home (formerly called an orphanage) and have been removed from their parent's home (for lack of a better word) because of abuse, drugs, etc. They are between the ages of 9-13. I talked about choices and family. As much as my stepfather abused me, and my mother allowed it to happen, I still loved them (I think that is an inate trait and I don't think we ever hate our "family" even though we say we do). I have questioned God so many times over the years. But as I told these young ladies, their choice would be how they chose their future. God gave them these parents, for whatever reason, and they could ask Him why someday. But, I finished by telling them that one day, they may be standing in front of a group of young women and telling them that they can have a wonderful family and be happy--that will be their choice. This is a very complicated posts, and I feel sorry for the young man; however, I don't believe he really feels like that. So, a recap on my family--my Mom died a tragic death 12 years ago; my stepdad is still alive and the most miserable person I know; both of my sisters had an abortion--one died from breast cancer last year and the other one is divorced; my brother spent 8 years in a federal prison for drug trafficking. Me--I have a wonderful husband, two sons, two daughters-in-law and 6 grandchildren. I love my brother, sister, and stepdad, but I don't want to be like them. It is my choice to live in a different environment, but I still sincerely pray for them. One of the commandments say to "Honor Your Father and Mother." So, there's really not a choice. My honoring them is wishing the best, forgiving, and not speaking ill of them. So, my hope and prayer that one day my great grandkids will be talking about how important "MoMo" thought about family because it's never too late to start a generation that sees how important family is.

  14. Paula, that is a wonderful post. Thank you. You have overcome a lot, and given your family something you never had. That is fantastic.

    If you had not cut ties with your parents and siblings and continued to associate with them just because they had "the same last name" - I don't think you would have been able to be the person you are now and have such a great family yourself.

    Misery begets misery. You broke away and that is great. It's sad, but it was crucial to your own well being for you to do so.

  15. It's the sad reality of today's world that family almost means nothing to some .. but when I think about two people who love each other dearly, and have children that they love more than anything - it makes me sad to think one of those children could grow up to feel like this man does (of course we know nothing about his circumstances). And I think some people just simply don't learn to care about others - we also live in a world of very self-centered people. A thought provoking post, thank you!

  16. Follow MormonFaces on instagram! It's exactly like Humans of NY except it's about mormons from all over the place and they share their testimonies for others to read and enjoy. It's an awesome page

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  18. i disagree with him, too. my family life is FAR from perfect, both my upbringing and the one i now struggle to raise. but i know with all my heart that "God gave us families to help us become who he wants us to be, and that is how God shows his love, for the family is of God."

  19. While I normally enjoy your blog I find this post in poor taste. As one of the other commenters noted you and your family have lead a very sheltered existence. While that alone is not necessarily a bad thing, for many any attempt to minimize the damage that family members can do is offensive. To suggest that someone doesn't realize what a blessing he should consider his family without knowing or understanding why he doesn't feel that way is dangerous and borderline ignorant. While I'm hopeful that this wasn't your intent I believe when you have a platform like this you need to be very careful of what you put out there. To the commenter who suggests that God gave us families to help us become who he wants us to be, I refuse to believe ANY God, regardless of faith, would want someone to be placed in a family of abuse/neglect etc to become someone he wants us to be.

  20. so my sister hit me on Christmas Day two years ago. we have not talked since. She is living overseas and I in fact have no idea where. Sometimes it is better to let the people go who hurt you and focus on the ones you care about you.Family or not. No apology has been forthcoming and I know I will never get one. I am happy and am not going to let someone else ruin my life.

  21. Madame Queen--I removed myself from the situation (moved away from the state); however, as much as I wanted to, I didn't cut ties. My children knew their grandparents and aunts/uncles, but on my terms. I still talk to my brother and sister weekly and my dad on Father's Day and pray for them daily. While I hated my life and family situation growing up, I firmly believe my family is the reason I am the person I am. Beth, in regards to your comment "I refuse to believe ANY God, regardless of faith, would want someone to be placed in a family of abuse/neglect etc to become someone he wants us to be." Who do you believes gives us the parents we have? I belive God doesn't want them to abuse us, etc., but a 5-year old doesn't get to choose who these people are. I have never commented on this blog before yesterday, and "my perception" of what Shawni said hit home for me. We can choose to be victims or rise above. We can say "this is not how my story will end." And, we cannot pick and choose which of the 10 commandments we follow.

  22. Well written, loved everything you said. Family is everything!

  23. I rarely comment on here, but I have to say that I agree with the guy - life is too short to spend it with people who don't make you happy. I also agree with some others who have pointed out that you seem to live in your privileged bubble and don't always recognize how much heartache there is out there. I get that your point of the post was to be thankful for your family, but you should also be mindful of those people who are way, way less fortunate that you and actually took some of your comments as offensive. I'm surprised at some of the things you said, since you don't have any idea about this guy's background and what he may have endured in his life.

  24. I have been part of the “Eyre family” since my children were babies thirty years ago. My favorite memory is my children singing “My mommy and daddy wanted me to come and be part of our family” from Joy School. I stopped your parents in the airport last year and thanked them for helping me raise my family. I was thrilled to start reading your blog several years ago, knowing that little Shawni from the Joy School tapes was all grown up with her own family. I know you, your parents and siblings are devoted to making families stronger and you and they are a testament to that work. That work has blessed my life as a mother and your blog makes me smile, except today.

    I have worked hard to understand and overcome the “less than” feelings that I’ve had because I wasn’t born into a family like yours. I felt like I had been kicked in the stomach when I read “we all have people we share the same name with that we could reach out to more.” And “some families need to leave a past of abuse and heart-ache and be strong enough to start over emotionally.” Those are pretty big assumptions for you to make. The effects of abuse and mental illness sometimes make it impossible to reach out and sometimes being strong enough to start over emotionally is a full-time job.

    So … please keep up the good work of letting us have a peek into your life, the good and the bad, easy and hard. Just know that there are plenty of us for whom the word family doesn’t always mean happiness and joy. Many of us have had to reach beyond our biology to create relationships of love and support.

  25. Oh I do hope that some of you read the part where I said I do not know this man's situation and I totally get that he is in a situation that I don't understand. Reading what he said just made my heart sad that he doesn't have a loving family, and further led me to ponder about how very grateful I am that I do.

    And also I hope you saw the part where I wrote that I know that I have a very unique situation. I hope you read the part where I said I don't want to ever, ever take that for granted. That's why I wrote this post. I have ancestors who made family a priority. That's why I am where I am right now, in this wonderfully unique situation I want to cherish.

    This post on humansofny made me so grateful for the sacrifices of those ancestors, because believe me, there were a LOT of them.

    It made me want to prioritize family even more in any way I know how, and I wanted to share that. Because whether we have functional families or not, I believe that we need them. And if we have a crazy, abusive one, I LOVE people like Paula who have the strength and courage and wisdom to start anew.

    That takes some serious character.

    To be the one strong and loving enough to pull out and have the clarity of mind to start a new path. To blaze a new trail.

    What Paula has done will make a difference for her future posterity.

    And that is not easy.

    That takes a whole lot of Christ-like love. Her great-great-grandchildren may be just like me some day, part of great, strong families and pondering on the wonder of how grateful they are for that tremendous blessing. Those great-great grandchildren may not even know to whom to praise or be grateful, but their lives will be better because Paula had the heart to defy what would be a natural consequence to a rough upbringing.

    Paula, I love your courage and your strength to start anew, and also not to hold grudges and let hate sink into your heart (which it sounds like you had many reasons to). I believe that hate and grudges only pull down the holder of them. Paula had the strength to cast that burden on the Lord and start a new path.

    Thank you so much for your story, Paula!

    Thank you for the clarification on your interpretation of what I said, Natalee H. That is exactly what I meant, and I'm sorry if it came off to mean I think people should stick it out in dangerous or abusive situations.

    I just think that no matter what family situation we find ourselves in, we have the power to push to make it better in any way we can. Maybe that means leaving and starting anew yet loving and forgiving but keeping a distance like Paula did. Maybe it means being more deliberate in what we do each day. Maybe it means sending a nice email to a sibling we haven't talked to for a while. Maybe it means looking into getting help for mental illness or trying to look at someone you cannot understand in a more Christ-like way.

    It means something different in every single situation for every single different person. We all come from such incredibly different backgrounds!

    But pushing the cause of families (whether it's a lot or a little) means we are doing the world some good.

    Because strong families make a difference.

    And I'm forever grateful for mine and the sacrifices made to make it the way it is.

  26. "whether we have functional families or not, I believe that we need them."

    Shawni - totally agree with you there. Everyone needs a family, that is a support system of people who love and care about you to help you when you need it and for you to help when they need it.

    I think everyone's point is that sometimes the people who make up that family or support system may not actually have the same last name, may not actually be blood relatives.

    Also, I think that unless something really bad happened people should make an effort to keep in touch with their blood relatives - that is, not become estranged because of a remark someone made, or a perceived slight in some way. That's where you could be the bigger person and reach out to make amends. Just not when there is any kind of physical or emotional abuse going on. Then it would be detrimental to initiate contact.

    I think we understand what you meant.

  27. Thanks, Shawni. Wow, It's tough to be a blogger when you hit a nerve. Thanks for standing up for families.

    I LOVE Paula's perspective. My Dad came from a tough background and CHOSE to be different-- to teach his posterity to be a loving, forgiving, strong family. Because of him and his decision to be a transitional character in our family line, I grew up in a family much the same as Shawni's and now have a happy little family of my own (and so do my four siblings). I am so grateful that he didn't get bitter and give up on the idea of family!

  28. I think this was a beautiful, well written post. Thank you.

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  31. Knowing someone who had it tough and living the tough are not the same thing. I suppose it could be an act but she just went a vacation with her entire family on the other side of the world. I am glad she enjoys being around everyone. I think the other issue is the notion that families knew each other before coming down to earth and with be together again after death. It's great to think that when everyone is pleasant and you want to see them for all eternity. What if they are not pleasant?

  32. I just checked up on this post and, as expected, the commentary is great! Shawni, please do NOT stop writing thought-provoking posts like this. I love reading different people's opinions on these matters. And I love hearing how you respond because you are always so kind in your responses. Dialogue is a good thing. Everyone doesn't have to agree with everyone else all of the time, and we don't have to take offense to each other so easily either. I also want to point out that the man in the post, while he did say that focus on family leads some people to stay in "unhealthy" situations - potentially a very bad thing - also said that he shouldn't have to hang out with people "I just don't like." I read that as cutting ties for non serious, potentially petty reasons, and if true that would be a shame.

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  34. Hopefully it's just that your New Yorker is a young man. He's absolutely meant to be pushing away from his birth family for a few years, so he can find someone special who doesn't share his genes... He doesn't know it, but it's all part of mother nature's cunning plan to create another genetically healthy family.

    Either way, I do hope he's found this and is laughing at us old biddies speculating about a throwaway remark!

  35. I know it wasn't your intention, you or the commenters who sound to me like they are boasting (humblebrag) about your amazing families you are so grateful for (point? Obviously you should be grateful but WHAT exactly is the point of doing so publically and particularly in this context?). Many people are not so lucky, forgotten, alone, abused. I'll let you all get back to high fiving each other on your good luck.

  36. I'm curious to see what type of relationship my children will wish to maintain with me after they're grown. Presently we have traded the snuggles and hugs of their younger years for slamming doors and rolling eyes of their teens. I hang on to hope that they will value my love for them again someday.

  37. This IG post made me so sad too! I had so many of the same thoughts when I read his quote...wondering what his mother thought of his ideas! Perhaps, like you said, he had a difficult situation, but it made me so grateful for my, un-difficult in the big picture one.

  38. I am grateful that I grew up in a happy, loving home. I didn't realize how unique it was, and am still learning that when I hear stories from other com mentors. I applaud your oerspective to give all of us something to think about. We can all forgive more, but some may need to forgive and not revisit, something I have not had to deal with. I do believe we were put into families for a purpose, some just chose to use their agency in a harmful way. Keep spreading the good news of families!! (Sorry for phone typos--hard to edit)

  39. I think the difference is, Shawni, that your parents did make family a priority. And that they were good people. If you don't come from a loving family, then it can be difficult to move forward and make your own family, especially since society really emphasizes biological connections over others. Not everyone has a traditional family, and if we could widen our definition of family, perhaps you would find that you do agree a lot with this young man.

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  41. Mother's Day this year was bittersweet because I am now a very happy mother of 2 kids 3 and under but I have made a decision to not see my own Mother regularly. My mother is a very difficult person who has a hard time maintaining any relationships with friends or family because she suffers from Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Her whole life, she feels that everybody has done her wrong and is a huge disappointment -- which is definitely not reality. She was physically abusive (hitting) as well as mentally and emotionally abusive. She loves to use guilt to emotionally blackmail me and my step dad to do her biddings. When I was younger, I used to ask God to take me back because I never asked to be born. I kept hearing from my mom that I was a mistake, never brought joy to her life, and was so difficult she only ended up having one kid so for a very long time I kept trying to please her but never got the validation that I desperately wanted. Now I had to make the difficult decision to not spend a lot of time around her because she is actively putting my kids down as well as my husband. She tells my kids that we don't love them and that only she loves them. She insults them ( a 3 year old and an 11 months old) and insults my husband as well as his parents. order to preserve my happy home, I need to drastically reduce the interactions with my mom. It is not an easy decision and I have struggled with it for years! I am 34, and don't have a single good memory with her.


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