The Myth of Ready-Made Relationships

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I’ve been thinking a lot about titles, especially the relational kind like sister or brother. What is a title, really? Letters arranged in a particular order. A word. A noun. Used to categorize, to identify, to convey position, to assert power.  

There seems to be an unspoken collective agreement that familial titles bring with them some kind of Norman Rockwell storyline. It’s like a cosmic two-for-one: With this title you get a ready-made relationship for no extra charge.

One look at your own family and it’s probably pretty obvious this is not how it works. Relationships are built over time. Reinforced and recommitted to time and again. Not handed out like a dollar store coupon.

Yet, the most precious of titles – mother, father, son, daughter, sister, brother – are granted by the happenstance of birth or adoption and we consider them irrevocable, furthering the myth that the title somehow entitles one to and automatically delivers a relationship.

Maybe it’s time we re-consider.

What if we thought of ourselves as Mother-in-Training? Or Brother, temp-to-permanent position? How might our behaviors change? Our mindset? How might our family relationships be different if we stopped assuming we were irreplaceable?

What if we regarded these relationships for what they truly are – the ultimate family heirloom to be carefully crafted, refined, polished and protected?

Happy Birthday Helen


This is Helen Fendlason Bottolfs & Arthur Bottolfs, my paternal grandparents. Helen would have been 103 today. She died when I was only nine, but my most vivid early childhood memories are from her house, her big yard, the old chicken houses, and the barn. She lived just across the field from my house and I would find my way to her doorstep most summer days, usually barefoot.

Helen did not approve of my unkept tom-boy ways and for me that was part of her charm. In one look and tsk tsk of her tongue she could both disapprove of what was before her and simultaneously see right into me— who I could be, who I really was. She had higher expectations for me. ⠀⠀⠀⠀

Of all the stories I could tell, my favorite memory is of the Christmas Helen let me help with her gift wrapping. I was probably in 1st or 2nd grade. She let me write all the To/From tags and I did so diligently and with such pride. Helen was very particular and I fully understood what an honor this was. I remember beaming with pride with each little tag.

Later I learned I had misspelled her name on every tag. Hellen with two Ls. I was crushed. Why didn't she say anything? I was convinced my mother was wrong. Helen must really be spelled with two Ls because my Maw-Maw would have most definitely corrected my mistake. Anyone who knew her would tell you that.

I never asked her about it. She never said a word. It was our unspoken secret. The message was clear, "I see you, mistakes and all, and it's ok. You're ok."