Lefty Parent

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Living & parenting without the rule book

“Suckee” Families & “Blowee” Families

June 7th, 2009 at 18:39

My partner Sally had an insightful and charismatic teacher in her graduate school marriage and family therapy program who defined two types of families, “suckee” and “blowee”, the former always recruiting new “members” and the later always letting them go. No value judgment intended here, both can be loving and supportive in their way.

Sally has a “suckee” family, her parents and two sisters tend to live in the same locale, stay in close contact, have big family gatherings (including events that bring the larger family from all over the country), and are always welcoming of in-laws and friends and finding ways to weave that larger circle into their family events and life as honorary “cousins” of a sort. There is a strong sense among all family members of the high importance of family relationships and being close. I certainly have felt completely welcome by her parents and siblings and woven into their family circle. But if I suggested that Sally and I move out of the Los Angeles area, that would probably be some sort of cataclysm, especially for her mom and dad.

My birth family, on the other hand, was definitely more “blowee” (though with the exception of the circle built by my mom and my “Feminist Aunts”). My brother and I both left our home town to go to college and decided to pursue our adult lives far from our parents, and they never seemed to have compunctions or concerns about that. When my mom and dad remarried each other in 1977 (after being divorced for twelve years) they essentially gave me a month’s notice to find a new place to live in place of my home for those twelve years. They did not even suggest that I move with them down to their new home in Dayton Ohio (not that I would have.) We still stayed connected to each other as a family, but on the telephone once a week and once a year for Christmas, or if our other travels brought us through the area, and there was no real longing to be reassembled in the same locale.

Maybe it tends to wobble back and forth between the generations, where members of a “blowee” family have the urge or longing (like I seem to) to be more “suckee”. Sally’s parents did both actually “blow” away from their birth families and larger clan in the Bronx, to move to Phoenix Arizona to pursue their further life and raise their family. I have spent so much time and have been so involved in my kids’ lives it would be hard for me if they moved out of town.

I was discussing this with a friend from my youth online the other day and she said, “I’d love to have my children and grandchildren closer, but the price of raising them to think for themselves and follow their dreams can sometimes be that we have to treasure the times we get back together. Fortunately, our children remain emotionally close to each other and to us.”

That’s good logic, but definitely more “blowee” thinking. And that’s not to say that kids from “suckee” families don’t equally develop the ability to think for themselves, they just tend to view family as maybe a larger resource and component of their lives.

In my more “suckee” thinking my friend’s statement feels very bittersweet. I guess I like having a circle of people, younger people, around me that I care deeply for and that I can be of assistance to. My kids and their circle of friends fit the bill nicely, but it could be others instead. Sally and I always went beyond just “making the effort” but were truly interested in getting to know our kids’ friends, including having those great, sometimes long, evening conversations around the kitchen table.

My son has encouraged me to get more involved with the Unitarian-Universalist youth community as an adult helper and youth advisor. I think at some point I will take him up on his suggestion.

In my mind, it is all about human evolution, and it seems to work to have a mix of “suckee” and “blowee” families to best facilitate that evolution. If all families were “suckee”, there maybe wouldn’t be enough cross-pollination, whereas if they were all “blowee”, there might not be informal loci to form circles and small communities around.

So help me here. I would appreciate your thoughts on better words for these two family types to replace “suckee” and “blowee”. Each time I say or type either word I kind of cringe!

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