A Barbecue Ain’t Gonna Fix It…Part 2
Addressing and Overcoming Deeply Rooted Issues that Prevent Togetherness
In my last blog post, I related my fondness for the movie Soul Food to my own experiences with silently observing family drama (just like the movie’s lead character, Ahmad). Personally, my Big Mama is still alive and well, so I’ve never had to scheme to set up a Sunday dinner like Ahmad did, but I do often have conversations with cousins, friends, and extended family members who echo many similar questions about the fading tradition of gathering:
Whatever happened to those big family functions we used to have?
Why don’t we get together like that anymore?
Why does it seem that these traditions fade away with the passing of our elders?
What happened to the idea of “family?”
As stated in the previous post, I believe that there are two main answers to these questions:
Everybody wants to keep the traditional gatherings, but either nobody was passed the torch, or no one wants to pick it up, to carry them on. More to come on this later…
There are many unspoken and unhealed wounds, issues, and traumas that have gradually driven some of our extended families apart.
The title of this two-part blog series is pulled from a conversation I had with my mother on these subjects. While discussing our views about how to resolve said issues, Muva said in her signature tone, “A barbecue ain’t gon’ fix it…a stick of rib and a plate of baked beans isn’t going to do anything.” We agreed that even if the reunion and gathering traditions suddenly reappeared in families where they’d been lost, the issues that made them stop in the first place would still persist. They always have and they always will, without a principle that is as complicated as it is cliché: COMMUNICATION.
Reader, pause to ask yourself:
Do you wonder why some relatives seem to react like water and oil in shared space?
Do you perceive that someone or a group of family members is treated differently than others?
Do you wonder why events stopped happening in your own family?
Do you feel like someone wronged you (or your immediate family) and never apologized for it?
If the answer to any of these questions is “Yes,” then, start talking to your family and asking questions. Start with your immediate elders (parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles) and work your way back. Stop grabbing for straws based on the limits of your own recollection and start talking to the seasoned adults about what was really going on back in the day. Why don’t Peaches and Herb get along? Why does it seem like so-and-so’s family doesn’t mess with the other side of the family? Mama/Daddy, what caused you to stop hanging with Cousin Bobby? We are all grown now, so start talking to each other honestly about the good, the bad, and the ugly. That’s the only way to get to the root of understanding the state of your family ties, and I assure you that this approach will get you much further than empty pondering or loosely veiled social media discussions ever could.
Be cautious, though. There are a few things to do before diving headfirst into unpacking your Pandora’s box of family drama:
Identify what your issues actually are.
Were you wronged by someone directly, or have you absorbed the issues that your elders had with other people and then projected onto you. If you don’t personally have an issue, and are just trying to gain a better understanding of your family’s history, then identify what it is that you’re specifically wanting to know or learn more about. Is it something simple, like Why do we call our uncle Junebug when his name is Byron? or more complicated, like Why did Mama and Aunt Maddie stop speaking?
2. When collecting other people’s accounts of how family issues unfolded, remember that there are two sides to every story, and sometimes, the truth lies somewhere in between.
Your mom or dad’s version of the truth may not always enclose all the details. And if they always somehow end up being the victim in a story, then…Let’s just say that you may want to investigate a little further and/or gather responses from the other people involved.
3. The quest for truth may hurt you before it heals.
The truth can be UGLY. Even our most beloved family members are human; so prepare yourself for the possibility that you may learn new things about them that challenge or complicate your perception of the people you love. You also may be forced to have tough conversations about accountability with certain people for the first time. Opening old wounds is never easy and is often painful, but be patient, exercise grace, and meet people where they are.
4. Lastly, know that not everyone will be willing to go along with your journey.
Just because you want to uncover the hidden truths of your family’s past, doesn’t mean that others will want to tell. Our grandparents’ generations, for example, did not talk about emotional subjects as openly as we do so it can be a challenge to get them to open up. Additionally, some people may be in a place in which they are not open to reconciliation with others. There is no overcoming certain rifts sometimes, and that’s okay. It’s not our job to press on the matter, it’s our job to respect where people are in their journey and move on. No matter how much we wish that everyone could all just get along, the truth is that some people just don’t. It is what it is. However, when it comes to the hesitant elders, if you’re patient and know how to create space for them to feel comfortable opening up, then with some luck, the truth will start to reveal itself in time.
…And if you happen to have a little cousin with a level head and lots of tea, then it may be beneficial to tap into their knowledge bank, too. Enlist them to help you fill in the gaps.
My last recommendation is this: There is no shame in incorporating a therapist into your search for understanding, either as a third party for yourself or as someone who can intervene to help mend bonds between willing relatives. Sometimes small issues go unresolved for so long that they transcend generations, becoming much bigger issues that we can’t solve by ourselves. Hell, some people’s kids have carried on the attitudes or anger of their parents and don’t even know where it comes from or why. With that said, it may be beneficial to incorporate a professional to help unpack certain issues and mend fences. This will only promote healthy healing.
Come back in two weeks for the third and final part of this series, in which I will discuss how we – the younger generations of our families – can restart the reunions and positive gathering traditions with our extended families. Lord knows that we need to quit waiting to get together until people die; but don’t come looking for me to cosign on NeNe and ‘nem’s habit of only bringing 20 people with hungry bellies to the function. If we want to carry on our favorite traditions, then we ALL have a responsibility to contribute. The days of a couple people scraping together their resources for the masses to show up, eat, and leave, are dead.
More to come on that, next time. Until then, happy healing. #StayKultured
P.s. Rest in Peace, Cicely Tyson, who was a trailblazer for African American women in the performing arts, and who felt like an auntie/grandmother to us all. Rest in Power, Queen.