With family, we revert to age 12

Family hurts. They are the hardest reminders of the gnarliest, unprettiest bits of ourselves. They hold up the rawest reflections. No smoke, just mirrors.

Family dinner wine and accompaniment hustle
Dinner with my wonderful family last weekend

And so we revert to our 12-year-old selves in defensive response. I don’t know about you. I was 12 when I really started to hurt. I was 12 when I was first really bludgeoned with the realization, “Holy shit, my parents might just be wrong”…in their outlook, their values, their take on life.  This was a lonely feeling.  (I was also 12 when I started my first business and took up my “investigation of God”, trialing a different church every Sunday.)

I was 12 when I really felt abandoned, left on my own to define myself. And my reference point was my family.

Last weekend I was in Canberra visiting my large, raucous family. It’s not often all eight of us are in the same place at the same time. We tell ablutions jokes (me: “When we’re 70 what do you think we’ll talk about? Them, in unison: “Fart jokes”) , pay each other out, test each others patience, wrestle and compete physically (to climb trees, ride faster, jump rocks). You falter, “C’mon Sarah, confidence is king,” is the response.

Yep, 12 is where we regress.


It all can hurt, after three days of it. It raises stuff, always in the context of a deep, deep love. We keep going back for more, though, don’t we. If our lesson hasn’t been learned, we have to. We have to keep taking the scab off the wound and looking underneath.

A friend pointed out to me that when I speak of my family, especially my siblings, it’s with a lot of acceptance and resignation. It’s true. I accept them more than anyone on the planet. I wouldn’t want to change a thing about them. Parents are harder, especially as we get older.


My hairdresser asked why this is the case. “Is it because we get more fearful we’re becoming like them?” Yes, I think so. Intermeshed with a growing awareness of their vulnerability and how much they’ve sacrificed over the years. But there’s also this: the reflection and lesson that they hold up to us gets more urgent. My hairdresser’s Mum is dying of cancer and her Mum’s “stuff” has got louder lately. It’s pressing more of her buttons and forcing her to confront her own stuff. “What are we meant to do?” she asked to my hair-plastered-to-face reflection in the mirror.

“Stop being 12 and be the adult,” I said. This is our challenge when we’re with family. And beyond. This takes commitment and diligence and acceptance and compromise. Family is hard for a reason.

How is your family hard? 

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