Thoughtful Thursday: Role

November 27, 2009

Thoughtful ThursdayIn honor of many of you who have just sat through an awkward holiday meal with extended family…

People in families end up with roles. Among children, there’s often The Smart One, The Athletic One, The Pretty One, The Fuck-Up, etc.

As children grow, roles change into adult versions. The Successful One, The Unemployed One, The Dutiful One, The Drunk One, The One Who Never Grows Up, The One Who Ages Too Fast, The Fuck-Up, etc.

Family-building also seems to play a part in forming the roles. A friend of mine comes from a blue-collar family. He is the only person in his family ever to have gone to college, and he went on to obtain two advanced degrees. Formerly The Smart One, he grew to become The Successful One. His siblings all had children at a young age and all work at make-ends-meet jobs. For a while, it seemed like my friend would focus on his career and might never get married or have children. When he met his now-wife and announced that they were getting married, his parents panicked. They were afraid that The Successful One, on whom all of the family hopes had been pinned, would give it all up and become “just” a family man. Their fears were unfounded, and he now has children and a successful career. He doesn’t make his siblings look very good by comparison, but the roles remain intact.

In DH’s family, several of his younger siblings are too young to have fallen into adult roles yet. The oldest sister, about whom I’ve blogged extensively both before and after she got pregnant, has taken on the role of The One Who Can’t Make Up Her Mind. By age 30, she’d had several careers and gotten several degrees in different fields. But, even before getting pregnant, she made it clear that her real intention was to become The Stay-at-Home Mother. This is not the role that the family would have selected for her (including her future husband, actually), but it is the role that she has chosen for herself. This explains some of her overzealous rush to get pregnant: you can’t be a SAHM without a kid.

In my immediate family, since I have no siblings, I am the conduit for all expectations and holder of all roles. Among my extended family, as I’ve mentioned before, there is a split between breeders and achievers.

The cousins who have not been successful (poor or no job prospects, little education, debilitating mental illness, serious substance abuse) all have children, and all are divorced. Those of us who have gotten educations and pursued big-shot careers are all currently childless (actually, now that I think of it, all of them are divorced too except for me – my family doesn’t do marriage very well). In my family, my job is to be educated to an unprecedented level, and extremely successful, and well-traveled to places that others can only dream of, and fabulously happy in my marriage.

(Don’t get me wrong. My “unsuccessful” cousins are mostly really good people, and by no means are their problems related to having had children, and in fact I think most of them are better at parenting than they are at the rest of their lives. My “successful” cousins are even better people, some of the very kindest people that I’ve ever met in my whole life, in addition to being smart and ambitious and athletic and unbelievably attractive and humble… the kind of people that you would hate except that you absolutely can’t because they exude goodness yet are also wonderfully sarcastic.)

In the time since I wrote that over a year ago, my role has now been expanded to Mother of Twins, an over-achiever variation on breeder. Can you call someone a breeder if they are married more than a decade before having children in their mid-30s? If they endure 7 years of infertility? Perhaps not. So, apparently, my role is Achiever Who Achieves Career Success and Just Barely Achieved One Successful Pregnancy and Now Gives the Impression of Juggling Everything Better Than She Actually Is.

What is your role in your family? How does family-building (or lack thereof) affect your role?

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16 Responses to “Thoughtful Thursday: Role”

  1. Carrie Says:

    I was just thinking about this topic after two of my cousins proclaimed last night that they were the black sheep of the family.

    I don’t consider them this at all, but I guess they feel this way about themselves because there does seem to be unspoken pressure from my Grandma that you must go to her church and be a “good Christian” in order to be, I don’t know, up to the family’s standards?

    I’ve thought about this a lot though and have decided that I don’t care. It doesn’t matter what my role is, what other people think my role is or what role I should strive to fill because you can’t describe someone fully that way. Does one of my “black sheep” cousins do things that Grandma doesn’t approve of? Sure… but I know that some of her grandchildren that she does “approve of” have done the same things – she just didn’t find out about them.

    For awhile I was definitely the one who couldn’t have kids – as evidenced by being introduced to some of Grandma’s church family that way. While I was sort of offended at first, I decided to look at it in a more positive light – I’m sure that our family-building efforts had been mentioned at church in order to be prayed about, which just shows that Grandma means well.

    So – no roles for me. I may be the “shy quiet one” in their minds, but that doesn’t truly describe me and just shows that they don’t really know me.

  2. Michele Says:

    I know what you mean. In my family, my role was that of successful, go getter. What I want, I get. Which is why it was so hard when I couldnt get pregnant and then when we finally were able to with help, I couldnt stay pregnant. It was the one thing I felt I failed at completely. Now, looking at Bobby and Maya, I realize all of our babies were complete successes. I was a success all along and just didnt realize…

  3. ^WiseGuy^ Says:

    Brilliant TT there, lady!

    As a kid, I was the elder one, the one expected to behave coz my brother learnt from me…. I think I have had many roles since then…

    Today as an adult the world looks at me and ascribes different names to what I do, but I know that I am the carrier of a particular legacy, and my role is to do what it takes to carry it forward.

  4. Carrie Says:

    I am the independent do it all member of my family. Now, I’m changing that role and admitting that I cannot do it all. My husband has deployed for the 3rd time, but this time we have three small children to take care of. I’m admitting defeat and feel like a failure.

    Family building – every one of my siblings, except my youngest (who is not “ready” to have chidren) have families. My infertility problems have never been recognized by my family. They pretty much ignored it all and/or did not understand.

  5. Elana Kahn Says:

    I never really thought about my role in my family. I guess I’m the one who tries to keep everyone happy all at the same time. I think I’m also the one who will carry on my father’s legacy…which I will try my best to do.

    In terms of family building, my sister has no desire to get pregnant or have children (even though she’s over 30 and has been married for over a decade). Everyone understood my infertility issues and how devastating it was for me. My mother especially understood because she suffered through 3 years before getting pregnant with me. They all cheered me on during cycles and were all ecstatic when I finally got pregnant with the twins.

  6. Julie Says:

    You should be proud for fulfilling so many positive roles! As my sister and I started our careers she clearly accelerated and at the same time didn’t show interest in settling down and starting a family. She is now 36, living overseas with a successful career and is still single. I was more than happy to take on the breeder role and couldn’t wait to make our family grow. I have a solid and stable career but it is never a topic of conversation at the holiday table like my sister’s is. It’s funny, I feel like not having kids yet is going against my “role” in the family. Gotta love family dynamics!


  7. My role is “The responsible One”. Most of my (half) siblings are drug addicts and live off the system. Thankfully they all live in California and we don’t have to see them often, if ever. The role I play between my only full biological sister and myself is that I have my life together. It sometimes pisses me off that I’m always looked at as responsible and have my shit together, becuase sometimes I don’t and a little support is needed. But since my mom died, that’s my role, as well as being The Strong One. Family dynamics are crazy!

    Love this Thoughtful Thursday! Hope you’re feeling well and strong.
    *HUGS*

  8. a Says:

    Ha. I am and will always be the youngest – cute, but not useful, if ya know what I mean. I’m also a little bit of the rebel, but my sister wins that award because she’s a lesbian.

    Nothing I do will ever change my label.

  9. Mel Says:

    It’s funny–as I read the post, I was trying to think of my role and while I can define everyone else, I have a difficult time knowing my own label, or the label others commonly have for me. I am the quintessential middle child, always trying to build bridges. I am the emotional one. Everyone counts on me to cry a few times when we all get together.


  10. My role has never been clearly defined. That happens when you are the Middle Child, turned Oldest Child when your brother dies. I guess if I have a role, it’s that of the one who Always-Needs-Change, The Drama Queen. I’m also the Mediator (like Mel said above, a classic Middle Child trait).

    My brother is the Adventurous One. The Free-Spirit-Yet-Homebody.

    We’re all a little mixed up I think.

    Let’s not get started on my husband and his siblings…


  11. I think I’ve always been (and still am) more or less the ‘good girl’ and the rational one (although five years of IF have made me much more emotional). But also the perfectionist, who can make things much more difficult for herself than they actually are. I don’t really know how family-building fits into that picture. For myself, my own position changed more because I gave up my ‘career’ to follow my husband when he accepted a job abroad (now twice) and I think that affected my self-esteem which might have something to do with the diagnosis of unexplained infertility… How the rest of my family looks at that I don’t really know. I think maybe the general feeling is that I’m often too nice and I should stand up a bit more for myself.

  12. Photogrl Says:

    I’m the oldest, which means I’m the responsible, well educated, strong one.

    Except I’m not that strong…but no one sees that but me.

  13. staciet Says:

    I am the baby in my family by 8 years, the only girl, and the only one who even liked school. I usually am “the responsible” one or “the smart” one. I am also “the calm” one when a crisis hits (as long as it is not my own or my child’s because the I become “the freaked out” one!) so I end up dealing with the crap at hand.

    At work, I am “a leader” which is totally annoying. I wish someone else would step up and lead on occasion. It sure would be nice to sometimes sit back and just follow a time or two!

  14. jill Says:

    Wow, very interesting question! Loved reading all the comments on this one. I’ve been on a self-imposed thanksgiving-internet-break so I’m late, but I’ll answer anyway.

    I have two distinct families – my mom’s side, and my dad’s side (they divorced when I was 2).

    On my mom’s side, I don’t think I have a role other than “the oldest sister”. I don’t think my mom or either of my sisters has any expectations of me. I’ve always been pretty middle-of-the-road: not greatly successful, but always had at least one job and never hurt for money; not incredibly smart, but not dumb; not rebellious, but not live-with-your-parents-till-you’re-30 either. It doesn’t help that I don’t tell my mom or one of my sisters much of what’s going on in my life.

    On my dad’s side, my role is probably “the mature one” or “the practical achiever”. I have a degree, have never asked my dad for money, and have always had at least one job. My brother, is completely opposite – always has money troubles, can’t stay in school long enough to graduate, constantly needs my dad’s help with money, and is always at new jobs because something happened with his old ones.

  15. Kristin Says:

    For the longest time, my dad especially regarded me as “the good daughter”. I swear it was almost like I was a saint. It took me totally blowing up and reaming him for something (yeah, I reamed my dad and he will admit he deserved it) before I was able to get off that pedestal and just be me.


  16. Interesting question, b/c there’s definitely a difference between how you perceive yourself and how you are perceived w/n your family. My mother and sister and father thought of me as the Brilliant One. My extended family definitely thinks of me as The Odd One. And I think of myself as The Artistic One. The way I was perceived within my family used to really bother me when I was younger, b/c I never felt like I fit in. But now I realize that fitting in isn’t all that important and I’m totally fine with (and strangely proud of) being the odd one.


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