A New World Family Order

The roles and expectations in the family I was born into were never well-defined. I was often expected to play mother to my own mother and father, who never resolved their power struggles with each other.

My parents world views were so totally different, that pleasing one, invariably involved me displeasing the other.

Out of this chaos grew my lifelong thirst for order and genuine understanding. Establishing clear order in our family has been my life’s essential challenge.

Losing my mother to breast cancer, tragically, in 2018, at the same time our youngest son turned 18, created a power vacuum much more significant than I could ever have anticipated.

Just like politics, when one leading player departs, others are left to jostle for new positions of responsibility, privilege and authority. Some find new strength, while others are challenged or demoted…

My mother was dearly loved but was somewhat of a toothless matriarch. Dominating yet unprincipled, people’s reactions to her were always a matter of perspective… to some, her deeds would be seen as benevolent, while to others, they were just plain lax.

When grandchildren needing discipline would instead receive her audience and praise, parents’ and grandchildren’s feelings about this would obviously differ.

While our children see themselves as all grown up now, thinking they know better about most things than their parents (especially their mother!), the truth is that when children become young adults, real parental responsibilities and challenges increase dramatically.

man and women balancing on scale
As Steve’s illness required me to assist him, he eventually saw the sense in lending my position more authority.

Despite their protests, young adult children need a new level of care and attention. They can get themselves in more serious trouble than school-age children, whether through drinking, driving, dating, using drugs irresponsibly… or simply feeling that they can sleep all day and sponge off other people.

Decreased perceived authority (as many women face when their children reach 18) and increased real responsibility are not an easy duo to manage.

Less evident than a departing leading player is when a family member loses status due to age, ill health or diminished responsibilities (real or perceived), and a new family order must be established to avoid conflict and chaos.

Eastern countries understand much better than Western ones the need for organisational structure and hierarchies that support authority in families. For this reason, I predict the East will take the lead in the personal political restructuring we are witnessing that mirrors events on the world stage.

More on that in a moment, but first, a little more about our family…

My mother’s departure and the tough job of transitioning our younger son into working life since finishing high school (school finishes in December in Australia), alongside Christmas and January being the busiest time at the motel we were managing––and Steve being diagnosed with heart disease around the same time––made that festive season extremely challenging.

Our younger son had been toying with leaving home (much like a yo-yo), and with Steve being unwell for most of that year, these were several additional shifts in the power balance we both had to manage. Swearing, tantrums, and sometimes even violence would result over even the most straightforward requests made to him by Steve and myself.

In the past, my efforts to claim any status or authority around Mum, even concerning our own children, usually provoked a backlash. The truth is that Mum shared zero authority regarding her own assessment of her status.

But with mum no longer presiding as the figurative head of the table, rather than allow me to be pushed aside, as many women do at the stage when their parents pass on and their children reach 18, I stepped up my game, claiming my proper role as co-regent of our family.

As Steve’s illness required me to assist him, he eventually saw the sense in lending my position at home and work (we work together) much more authority.

I am more authoritative than Steve and my mother (who I would deem overly permissive), and not everyone in the family welcomed this difference coming into starker contrast.

I was often told it just looked like I wanted to be ‘the boss’.

The truth was we had far too much of that attitude arising from the chaos, and it was time to establish a new family order. Not so anyone could be ‘the boss’, but to make it possible to work and relax together.

Establishing this new structure with purpose and intention was a seriously tough road. Still, eventually, the displays of aggression and dominance, resulting from the dramatic shift in our family’s organisational structure, ended.

Successful hierarchies (and yes, you certainly need hierarchies for success) have little to do with dominance.

Systems with roles defined by natural motivation and aptitude always work better than ones imposed by tradition or dogma (or dogmatic resistance towards either of these)… but that is a different story for another time.

Peace only comes when there is a balance of power. Only then can everyone’s propensity for good be revealed.

Back to dominance…

From an early age, we have been taught there is a good guy and a bad guy, and for peace to prevail, the good guy must win. That is how the stories all end. We in the West are the good guys who must destroy the bad guys.

The truth is peace only ever comes when there is a balance of power. Only then can everyone’s propensity for good be revealed.

If we want to end conflict and destruction in the world, we must first stop playing good guys and bad guys in our families.

We will never find peace in our homes through tearing down and demonising each other.

While it may have looked like I just wanted to ‘be the boss’ (and some family members have painted me as the bad guy at times), the reality is with Steve sick and in need of care and assistance and our children reaching an age where they need a different type of guidance, more and more roles began falling on my shoulders.

Yet our older children are more capable now and can handle larger responsibilities being asked of them.

So, when Steve eventually supported me in establishing a balance of power in our family by backing me in taking a more authoritative role, the result was not for dominance but to provide structure for equality and cooperation.

Because the truth is there are no good and bad guys, just good or bad systems and structures. Good structures encourage honesty and accountability; bad structures corruption and nepotism.

This leads us back to the world stage…

Balancing power has become increasingly urgent in our homes and communities at a time when the most powerful government in the world is relinquishing its dominant role on the world stage.

It’s official: the United States is no longer the strongest financial or military world power.

Are you old enough to remember the Cold War? And how much more peaceful a time that was in history than the ‘hot wars’ that have raged since the US and its allies became unchallengeable?

Peace will only come if the chaos of the transition can be managed by putting in place new and more balanced systems and structures.

If we continue to bay for blood and insist on a ‘final victory’ against opponents that are now stronger than us, the new opportunity for peace may be lost.

The fact is that we can never win the wars that the military Hawks now rally for.

If we cannot come to terms with this and accept and firmly establish a new balance of power, space will be left for a host of aggressive predators to take advantage of the chaos.

We must stop playing good guys and bad guys on the world stage if we want to end the conflict and destruction. We will never find peace in the world from tearing down and destroying each other.

Of more concern to us as individuals should be considering new ideas on how to ‘balance power’ in our homes and communities…

One good result of our family’s challenges was Steve finally seeing the need for him to protect our positions of authority in our family.

Our struggles helped him see how much he depended on my leadership.

Like chess, a king relies most on their queen when their position is challenged.

We worked on putting together the new organisational structure we shared at the time at The Love Safety Net in Family Fundamentals.

The groundwork we laid back then is coming to fruition in our lives now.

Meanwhile, our work developing Family Fundamentals continues, with the aid of a few generous souls who have supported us and helped this work to continue.

We are hopelessly understaffed, however, and as our family concerns must always come first, progress has been slow as we continue developing our programmes.

As always, our group members are encouraged to support each other.

Steve has lost weight and changed other habits, and his heart is improving. The doctors are amazed at his progress. Our work situation has also improved with us managing leasing rooms in several large houses instead of running the motel.

The family structure we have put in place has led us to become associates of a few Eastern families whose young adult children have lived with us while attending university, providing scope for our own continued education and business opportunities in the future.

Life is good, and our family is more peaceful and united than ever. This has come primarily from us learning peaceful means of making decisions together.

If you would like to begin setting up an organisational structure to balance power in your own family, start reading here for more details: Family Fundamentals