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The President’s Perspective: Reflections on Family

The President’s Perspective is a blog series from MSP President Fran Brown that explores the field of humanistic psychology and share insights into her experience as President. This month as the holiday season approaches, President Brown reflects on families. 

At this time of year our focus Photo of President Fran Brownoften turns to family.  Celebrating holidays with family. Family vacations. Quality family time.

But for many, the anticipation of gathering with family does not bring about feelings of joy and warmth. For those, eye rolling and forced conversation may come to mind – accompanied by feelings of dread. Others may choose to isolate themselves during this time. Getting together with an assortment of people who share common relatives, out of tradition or habit or obligation, does not always make for the perfect holiday depicted on TV and social media.

During these times it’s important that we practice good self-care. We can remind ourselves that we don’t have to do everything that’s expected of us. We can choose what’s most important, and let other things go. We can read articles about surviving our relatives, getting through a meal without arguing, and coping with those who are openly offensive or unkind.

If your family is like mine, we often bemoan that everyone is too busy and we hardly get together anymore. So we try very hard to gather on Christmas Eve. My immediate and extended family – children and grandchildren, brothers and their families, great nieces and nephews – come together for one night every year. And we do pretty well. Mostly. But what about the rest of the year? And what about those who are estranged from their families or, for a variety of reasons, are unable to be with relatives?  

That’s when we can widen our circles and reach out beyond our birth families to other people we love. The ones with whom we choose to spend our time. These people also are family – our chosen family. The family that grows naturally, over days and years. The ones with whom we share joys and disappointments. Who make us feel better about ourselves, the world, and life in general. Or who simply listen when there are no words.

Chosen family may be particularly resonant for some in the LGBTQ community, and others who have been ostracized from their biological families. What does one do when they suddenly don’t have a family? Hopefully, they find one. They grow one. They invite others to join them. Because family is ideally about inclusion, acceptance, and unconditional love. To truly give thanks, we first have to feel seen and accepted by those around us.

Imagine gathering on Thanksgiving Day with the people who love and support you. Those who respect your values, who show up for you, who know you – what you love, how it’s going at work, your challenges and successes. Imagine the gratitude and warmth that will fill you up as you realize all the love that surrounds you all the time.

Even if you can’t logistically gather your birth or chosen family around a table, I hope you will take a moment to close your eyes and imagine it. To give thanks in your heart. And to pass that love along.