I first heard the term “good family” when I was 27. I had moved to a new town and joined a new church. A family, the Posts, who also attended the church, embraced me. They had me over on Sundays after the service for pot roast, carrots and potatoes.
I was fresh out of graduate school, working as an adjunct writing teacher at two universities, and both mentally and physically healthy.
The Posts were a family of two parents and of three girls of marrying age. They were interested in good families because they wanted the girls to marry good boys.
For the Posts, these were the characteristics of a good family: hard-working, modest, possessing a sense of humor, polite, economically secure, intelligent, preferably college-educated, religious, naturally good looking, athletic, trim.
The Posts were also certain about what characteristics couldn’t be a part of a good family: no addictions, no mental illness, no scandal, no skeletons in the closet, no divorce, no crime, no homosexuality, no abuse, no recreational drug use.
But is all of this possible?
Even Mary Poppins had difficult relatives.
Here’s the thing. My family is riddled with mental illness. I’m bipolar and have been since 1991. Two years after the days of pot roast at the Posts, I had a massive nervous breakdown and proceeded to go even further downhill after that. Can our family be classified as a “good family”?
Not according to the Posts and all the others who believe like they do. And I believe there are a lot of people who share the Posts’s beliefs.
What can I say?
It doesn’t matter anymore. I found a marriage partner 20 years ago. And, thank God, Stephen didn’t buy into the good family myth. He took me as I was, flawed and, at the time, showing serious signs of mental illness.
My wedding pictures display how sick I was. I wasn’t smiling. In fact, I looked like I was in pain. I was.
And, surprise, my husband Stephen is from what people might call a good family. The Posts would approve. They would have even allowed one of their daughters to marry the man I married.
After a few years of marriage, Stephen said something very sweet to me. “Perfection isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.” My husband knows that sometimes our flaws make us interesting, colorful, even beautiful.
Stephen’s stability has helped me to become more stable. My husband (and prayer and medication) helped me get well. I can now pass as a mentally healthy woman, a “good” person.
It’s a sad state of affairs. Our culture believes that the mentally ill are bad. This belief has been embraced even more since some mentally ill people in our society have been horribly violent.
Most mentally ill people aren’t dangerous or even distasteful. You’ve heard it many times, but I’ll say it again. The mentally ill are our brothers and sisters, our fathers and mothers. The list goes on.
Be careful how you label families.