Mind Matters — “Minding the Gap” in Families

“I know you’re not-a talking to me, but I’m-a gonna talk-a to you.” So spoke a wise Italian-American woman who had a large brood of children who enlarged the brood by marrying, creating in-laws as well as grandchildren. She spoke those words when the family system hit snags and conflicts leading to relatives not speaking to each other. This discerning elder intuitively knew that continuing the disconnects and lack of communication would in the long run be detrimental to the family. And so she would take the initiative to speak to whomever felt aggrieved by some event or miscommunication in the family.

Unfortunately, too often we don't take this initiative. If a split-off, a “cut-off” occurs and family members are not speaking to one another, we instead abet the rift by erecting walls where before there had only been a gap.

In London in the Underground (subway system), there are signs everywhere warning “mind the gap,” alerting one not to fall into the space between the train’s doors and the platform. We need to “mind the gap” in family relationships too. (Actually, all relationships need this tending to, but families are where it all begins.)

Ironically, the problems in family relationships arise when gaps are not “allowed.” Let's consider here that the gaps are differences of opinion, conflicts about ways of life, habits, etc. Because one individual in the family looks, acts, thinks differently from the rest of the family, a “cut-off” may ensue. It's wonderful that families provide us with a collective, a community of “likeness.” However, when the balance in a family (or group or country) tips too much to the “we are all alike” side, there is no room for the I—the individual—to be. Families where there can be no differences, no arguments, no conflicts may then create “cut-offs” between family members. Instead of “minding the gap,” the space necessary for individuals to coexist, such families erect impenetrable walls avoiding constructive communication that allows for a healthy exchange of views.

The wise matriarch who stayed the course with her family did “mind the gap”. She knew that family members will have conflicts, but that such differences don't need to lead to “cut-offs.”

So often I encounter family situations where a family member will relate a story where a grown daughter may not be speaking to her mother, or vice versa. Or a brother and sister have been alienated from each other. There are infinite configurations for this theme. All it takes is for one person in the conflictual “cut-off” to keep attempting to connect, whether it be with a card or phone call, or an email. It may take years to bridge the gap but one person’s being mindful can make all the difference.

Why bother? Because in the long run family “cut-offs” have an incredible ripple effect. They tend to get established as a repetitive, intergenerational pattern—an unhealthy way of handling conflict and difference. So who will be the one in the family to take the initiative to “mind the gap” for the health of future generations?