- Child abuse
- Spousal abuse
- Psychological abuse
- Other than pleasantries, your adult child refuses to speak with you.
- Your spouse has fallen out of love with you, yet fear, inertia, and shared history preclude a dissolution. So you trudge along in your lackluster life.
- Your parent is still trying to control or demean you even though you’re already an adult.
- Your nine-year-old regularly screams, “I hate you, mommy!”
- Your adult child is back on your sofa still trying to “find himself” (with the assistance of drugs or alcohol.)
- You're not capable enough to compete with a sibling or parent, which dispirits you.
- You make major efforts to care for your aging parent, motivated mainly by guilt. Privately, you resent how much time, energy, and money it takes.
- Your spouse doesn’t earn enough income or do enough around the house.
- You suffer the effects of an impaired, alcoholic, drug-abusing, gambling, or just plain lazy and parasitic family member.
Millions of people don't even speak with a family member. Millions more spend years and fortunes on therapists, trying to undo the ills that family perpetrated on them.
All this shouldn’t be surprising. After all, unlike with friends, we are placed in our family of origin at random, with no say in the matter. We do choose our spouse, but hormones seem to preclude our doing a very good job of it--witness the 50% divorce rate.
While it’s unseemly to discuss, money is part of the equation as we evaluate whether family is overrated. It costs a fortune to support kids, let alone a stay-at-home spouse. To pay for it, many people choose lucrative careers that are far less enjoyable than those they’d otherwise choose. Do you think that, if it weren’t for the need to support a family, as many people would choose to sell insurance, be pest control workers, sewer repairers, or bond traders? Wouldn’t many of them choose a career, for example, in the creative arts, in a nonprofit, or as a computer game maker?
Of course, I can envision some readers thinking:
What? Are you advocating a society without children? Encouraging my readers to think more carefully before having children is hardly going to lead to a world without children. I am merely asking people to be more circumspect, not reflexively fulfilling society's expectation. Besides, environmentalists argue that overpopulation is the greatest threat to the environment. A few less children wouldn’t hurt the world and its seven billion people.
Life is even more difficult to live without the support of family. I’m not saying that people don’t need support. I’m arguing against the automatic assumption that you have greater obligation to support family members than others. For example, when your ne’er-do-well sibling asks you for money because he or she is unemployed, rather than succumb to the reflexive guilt that society imposes because “he’s family,” you'd be wise to view the issue in fuller dimension: in terms of the net effects on you, him, your family, and, yes, society. For example, does giving Sammy the Slug the money yield a greater net good than, for example, investing in a startup developing a drug to prevent sudden heart attack, the leading killer?
My main message is to resist automatically succumbing to convention, and instead, to make your choices consciously, based on what will ultimately yield the greatest good en toto: for you, your family, and society.