Sunday, 3 May 2015

Family roles

During any kind of transition, the focus is on the various stages of it, and immediate goals, and how to achieve them. Indeed, whether they can be achieved at all. It's entirely natural that 'getting there' becomes the dominant thing in one's life, akin to an obsession, and the rest of existence recedes for a while. If there is still a job to pursue, or a relationship to nurture, then these are seen in terms of how they can they be reconciled with the transition, and not in the very ordinary way they used to be regarded.

Quite a number of people find their life turned completely upside down, apparently forever, and see only a future in which, at best, they will be the ragged and bruised survivors of a hurricane that very nearly did for them. I dare say there are many who flinch at considering the future at all. They will be their true selves, yes; but their role or roles will be unclear. There may even be no definite role in sight. How for instance can you still be a mother or a father, or a sister or a brother, or a daughter or a son, in the way you used to be? It's not as simple as trying to be the reverse image of how one was.

And yet things do settle down. Some intractable and 'principled' people (who should be questioning those principles, if they lead away from kindness and empathy) can maintain a belligerent attitude indefinitely, declaring that they can never accept the change. But there are many who quickly adapt to the situation as it is, and become perfectly accustomed to the new version of oneself - and may even decide that they actually like the new version rather better. That shouldn't be a surprise, surely: they now have the natural, honest, no-pretences version; the walk-tall, nothing-to-hide-anymore version. What sensible person wouldn't prefer that to someone with sad eyes and secrets to conceal, who knows that their life is compromised and not as it should be? After transition you can be a better person, a better friend, and your horizons can be wider than they ever were before.

I've now reached a stage in my post-transition life when the big changes are long over. They are history. Ordinary ambitions and concerns now dominate my life, and not the pursuit of a self-focussed dream. Of course, I can't say - yet - that I've had every kind of experience that I should have had over past decades. Some of these can never happen now. But some remain possibilities, and, whether thrilling or not, they will get discussed on this blog if they occur - as I tick them off, you might say, and then assess them with mature analysis. I fully expect most will be something of a let-down. More dazzling in the contemplation than in the fulfilment. Well, that's life.

So, I've moved away from the exotic person in flux to the senior family member who is also an emerging adventuress. That's 'adventuress' with a small 'a' - taking the caravan to far-flung bits of the British Isles will do! However, with no ties, no special responsibilities towards anyone, and nobody to say 'no' to me, I expect to do more daring things in the years ahead.

But I have also started to ponder my role nowadays within my family. How do they perceive me, meaning those of them who have become fully acclimatised to myself as Lucy? I may be completely independent, and able to do as I please, but I am still a person with a definite position in the family. I am now in fact the Senior Family Figure, the Eldest. Such a person surely has certain responsibilities. It might be worth going through all the possible roles that could apply, and see how I match up.

The Senior Aunt
As sixty-two (sixty-three in July) I qualify by age for this status. Aunts can be stern, dotty, autocratic or doting. I'm none of these. I'm simply easy-going and pleasant to everyone. I claim no privileges. I claim no deference. I expect only good manners, good behaviour, and appreciation for whatever I do that might deserve thanks. I can do the cheerful, interesting and feisty Senior Aunt.

The Childminder
Even though there is now a young child in the family, I live too far away to be any use as a childminder. This is just as well. I have no expertise in looking after very young children, and it's not a role that would ever come easily to me. Fate has placed me two hours away from nephew and niece, the only family members who are ever going to procreate: so be it.

The Banker
I'm no use in the money department, either. I am income-rich, capital-poor, and there is no fat bank balance to dip into for any cash-strapped family member. I do save, but until very recently it's merely been an exercise in putting money away for later spending. I haven't accumulated. I wonder if this annoys anyone. A lack of liquid funds is not the ordinary situation at my age. Builders and traders who knock on my front door automatically assume that I must have a few thousand stashed away. I don't think they believe me when I tell them that I can't afford their best price, not this year, nor the next; and that I'm willing to take a risk that my roof tiles or whatever won't blow off in the next gale. They seem quite put out at my 'no-money' stance. Likewise, do my family consider me mean and tight where money is concerned?

Maybe not: I do have the house, and one day it will be sold and the money will then go to the right people. But that isn't likely to happen for a long time.

The Money Waster
Is there any feeling in my family that I've squandered a fortune on myself, and that's why there's nothing in the kitty now? The outward signs of extravagance are there: the posh car, the two or three months a year spent on holiday, the nice clothes, the social life. It's all in fact carefully costed and saved up for. And I don't see why I shouldn't enjoy a reasonably good lifestyle, provided it's completely self-funded. But it's not a self-denying lifestyle, and it could be said that I should be helping out less fortunate members of the family. Think of older pensioners scraping by, who still find the cash (as pensioners do) for wonderful Christmas presents for their grandchildren, or step in to pay for a son or daughter's holiday, or their wedding expenses. I have also wondered whether anyone has looked into what my surgery might have cost. (I published this on the blog, on 17 June 2011, for anyone wanting to know the facts)

The Hotelier
I don't mind anyone visiting me at my home for a few hours, nor do I mind cooking a tasty meal, but I never offer overnight accommodation. The reason is well-documented in these annals. It's psychological. My house is still, even now, my safe and secure refuge, the quiet place I need by the end of the day. It sustained me through the most traumatic period of my life, and I still need it as a very private, very peaceful space. It's not a hotel. I don't know whether I will, in future years, be prepared to share it more. But not yet. Which implies, of course, that I am not fully healed. But I can't expect other family members to have any insight into this.

I wonder whether I am thought remiss by not suggesting that, when I'm away in the caravan, others can use my house for a cheap break. Or will be thought remiss if, some years from now, I fail to have their children to stay during part of the long school summer holiday.

The Loose Cannon
As nobody is in a position to tell me what I should do, nor stop me behaving how I want to, I might well be regarded as a loose cannon, liable to embark on any kind of unwise adventure - and cause damage in the process. Not just an oddball holiday. I might sell up and live on a boat, or in a beach shack. I might move abroad. I might meet someone and sink my loyalty and everything I own into an unsuitable relationship. Really, anything at all. This is what can happen when a person isn't tied down, and is free to flit this way or that, just as the whim takes them. It might turn out admirably. Or it might be just an embarrassing disaster.

The Eventual Big Problem
One day, hopefully a long time from now, but inevitably, I will be really old and frail. I will then be a problem. I think I will be able to organise and afford home help from multiple sources, but what happens when I can't any longer? I wonder whether I am regarded as a ticking time bomb. Nobody in my family lives near me. Nobody will have to become a hands-on personal carer. But someone will have to spend time and effort arranging my life for me, if I can't do it myself. It isn't clear at the moment who will volunteer. I don't imagine anyone relishes taking on the task.

On the whole, it isn't a very positive set of roles! The jolly aunt who is also unable (or too selfish) to stump up with childcare services, or a useful loan, or free accommodation, who might do something very silly, and who will one day be an incontinent old crone.

Perhaps I am considering roles that I don't actually need to. It's not easy to decide.

I hope I didn't depress anyone. My scenarios are a million miles away from the sort of over-optimistic pink fluffy futures we all contemplate at some point.

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Lucy Melford