So the past few days have gotten me to thinking about the dynamics of a family – the way the members interact with one another and how each interaction in turns shapes the character and destiny of the family as a whole, and each member individually. It’s essentially an emotional ecosystem, if you think about, a very carefully constructed little biosphere where people get the emotional sustenance they need in order to survive and perpetuate the ecosystem. A family, in other words, is like the Serengeti or a Brazilian rainforest: something to be treasured and protected.
And like all ecosystems there are complexities that color and shape the outcomes of events. A family can be, at times, downright Darwinian: only the strong survive.
Case in point, my family for the past week. The absence of Rachel created a vacuum in our familial Serengeti – let’s call it a drought, or at the very least an arid season – whereby the three remaining members (me, Jon, and Ella) were left to fight over scarce resources (like love, common sense, emotional stability and chocolate ice cream). We each needed something from the others to make up for the void created by Rachel, and we were wildly different in our approach to getting our fill. It was SURVIVOR: Family Edition, only we didn’t have Jeff Probst. And it didn’t take me very long to realize that I was going to be the first one voted off the island.
Ella’s gamesmanship has been well documented, as has Jon’s, and I have to say: getting outplayed, outlasted and outsmarted by your preschoolers is a painful thing to experience (and admit). Now, with Rachel’s return, it has become painfully clear that my position in the ecosystem has been forever altered. I think the week alone with my kids has shown them that I am not the dominant predator in the house (not that anyone who knows us ever believed that anyway) and, more to the point, that I’m not even really a threat. They now know, without doubt, that it is Mommy who rules the roost, and I have become safely ensconced as the official chauffeur and designated wage earner.
It’s a weird thing to suddenly realize your own obsolescence. You go from the idea that you contribute significantly to the ecosystem to the crushing truth that you are there just to keep others happy. But there’s freedom in that realization; not that I ever assumed it was my role to dominate and dictate to my family, but sometimes that is the impression you get as a dad – that you should be the loudest, meanest and final voice on all matters. Understanding that your role in the ecosystem is to provide delicate balance to the other members is to understand that you are the foundation upon which your family is built. In a weird way, it’s understanding what Jesus taught: if you would lead, you must serve.
With Rachel home, I’m free to embrace that truth. For me to truly lead my family, I must first provide for their needs, give them the freedom to be who they are, and love them unconditionally. If I can do those things, my voice then becomes valued and listened to in the important matters, even if it gets ignored in those matters I find less important anyway. Sure, Rachel may be loved more by the kids, but that doesn’t mean my kids don’t love me at all – it just means they love me as they should.
And I’m okay with that.
Plus, if I embrace my role as my family’s support system, that means I get to spend less time in the octagon fighting for supremacy. Which means my chances of surviving increase exponentially. Which means that I may just outplay, outlast and outsmart them all…