What my Dysfunctional Family Taught Me About Life

by Sandy L on August 30, 2011

Today’s Coffee Talk topic asks bloggers to write about the following sentence: “What my Dysfunctional ________ taught me about ________.” I will be posting a series of links at the end of this post with other bloggers who have chosen to participate in this event. These are always fun read. I had a hard time just picking one person to talk about, so I thought I’d focus on my whole family as each person has something unique to offer. Some folks didn’t want to write about their family with the word dysfunctional in it but I think all families have some things they could point to that are not ideal. Today, I will share thoughts of my own.

Having Money Does Not Buy You Respect

The first lesson I was able to learn from my thieving cousin. My cousin lived a good chunk of his carefree and lavish lifestyle on the money his parents gave him. He bought a house in a fancy part of town, drove nice cars, took vacations every year and didn’t work for years at a time. When he did work, he was a car salesman and that salesman persona spilled over into his real life. He was always trying to sell his lifestyle to me and everyone around him. “Isn’t my life great?” “Look at all this land, wouldn’t you love to live in a house like this?” “See that house over there, a doctor lives there. He’s my neighbor.” This guy was always approval seeking and fishing for complements. He needed validation that he was a success. It was really sad.

I have a lot of respect for people who have rags to riches stories. It tells me a lot about their gumption and drive to succeed. Although they may have nice things, their character is what makes me respect them, not the money itself. For example, I wouldn’t respect a person who’s rich if they used unethical or ruthless means to get there. The money is just a side benefit from being a hard worker and responsible with managing it.

Buying Material Things Does not Lead to Happiness

I have a lot of pack rats in my family. It’s a general belief by many that I know that you can shop your way to fixing problems and/or finding happiness. If you want to lose weight, you buy exercise equipment. If you want to get organized you buy tote bins. If you want to cook more, you buy kitchen stuff and cookbooks. My motto is that it’s okay to have stuff as long as you use it. If you’re not using it, it’s just one more thing to clean, organize and trip over. It’s really hard for some people to let go of material items because of the sentimental value, but at some point if you never get rid of anything, it causes more stress in your life than comfort.

I think for those of use who lean towards the collector or save it for a rainy day mentality, it is important to make purging a part of your regular routine. I love the one in and one out rule…where if you buy something new, you have to take away something of equal or larger size to keep the clutter in check. I also have the benefit of a bad memory, inherited from Babci. Whenever she’s looking for something in her house, she is always like “I had one of those and I put it in a safe place…now if I could only remember where that place was.” If you can’t remember where you put something, then what’s the point of having it? My husband is one of the most organized people I know. It’s really nice being able to find things in our house. Everything has it’s own place and some logic behind it. We have our own file cabinets. He organizes things alphabetically. I organize by how often I use those folders. That sort of thing drives him a little batty.

Don’t Rely on Others to Make Your Life Better

Another method that I find particularly ineffective is blaming others for the reasons you are dissatisfied with you life. I wrote about it at length in my Happiness is Independence post but it still stands true that if you think it’s your bosses fault that you are unhappy at work instead of your own fault for not job hunting, then you will always feel like the victim and never like the hero or heroine. And even if you are “stuck” in a job that you don’t like for personal reasons, you must be doing it because the alternative is worse. Make peace with that fact and move on to something you can control that will make your life better.

If you tell yourself something for long enough, you’ll start to believe it

If I think about all the things in my life that have really made a difference both positive and negative, it’s been my attitude. I remember on more than one occasion (usually prior to a layoff period) getting all wrapped up in the negative work talk. Suddenly work was horrible and I was miserable. The reality is that work was no different than it always was, it’s just my outlook had changed. All the negativity was in my head. I can say similar things about positive thinking. If you believe in your heart that someday you will be debt free and you’re willing to do what it takes to get there, then darn it, it will happen. When you are looking at your own life through a certain set of glasses, then those glasses will magnify the negative or positive things that are just a part of normal day to day life. I like wearing the rose colored glasses that magnify all the ways I’m lucky in life. I’m not perfect though as I have been known to wear my Murphy’s Law glasses on occasion as well.

Stay away from those negative Nellys. They will poison your outlook on life.

Always have Dreams and Work Towards Achieving Them

The best lesson of all that I learned is that you should always have dreams and goals. Not only should you have them, but you should always believe they are possible to achieve. What I’ve learned over the years is that just the pursuit of the dreams themselves helped guide me to figure out what I really wanted. In many cases, the dreams I had weren’t worth the sacrifices it would take to get there. Knowing that helped me be at peace with the place I am in life. If you never pursued those dreams, you would never know what you were missing.

In every choice we make, there are trade offs. Did I need debt freedom that badly that we didn’t help my mom move to town with us? No..it was a dream that could wait and I don’t regret that I made that decision 6 years ago. It has enriched my life much more than extra money ever would. Do I know what it’s like to be on the fast track at work? Yes. Do I want to maintain that intensity for the next 20 years..definitely not now that I have children at home. When they’re out of the house, maybe I’ll reassess again. You’re not a failure at the place in your life if you choose to be in that place for a good reason. If you don’t at least try, you’ll question if you’ve lived up to your potential.

Other Lessons from Across the Web

Those are all my thoughts at the moment. Here are some other great reads for today’s coffee talk. Check back in tomorrow and I’ll have the list updated with the late posters. Feel free to copy and paste this it into your own coffee talk article as well.

Invest It Wisely =What My Dysfunctional Aunt Taught me about Wealth and Finances.

Budgeting in The Fun Stuff – What My Dysfunctional Family Taught me about Personal Finance

101 Centavos – A few Things I’ve Learned from my “Old Contract” Grandfather

Molly on Money (Note this will be the last post at this blog..Molly’s starting a new blog, so wish her a nice goodbye for me)  = Lessons I’ve Learned from my Dysfunctional Boss

Growing My Girls- What My Dysfunctional Dog Taught Me About My Limits

Krusty On Chrissy- What My Dysfunctional Father Taught Me About Love


{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Invest It Wisely August 30, 2011 at 10:35 AM

Great lessons and a great roundup, Sandy! Your cousin sounds a bit similar to my friend’s aunt… trying too hard to please and impress others and in the end it was at the expense of her whole family. I think material things can lead to some happiness but you certainly can’t base your life just on them. I am happier to live in a condo, to have a smart phone, to have a newer pc, to have a BBQ etc… those things actually do make me happy. However, if it was all that I had, I certainly wouldn’t be happy. I agree with you on the pack rat mentality too. This is something we definitely have to come to grips with living in a small space. It’s a good thing my girlfriend is also very organized.

I also loved your last three points about working toward your dreams and goals, and not getting wrapped up in negative thinking. I fall into this trap personally from time to time, and it can sometimes be a bit hard to kick myself out of that mode of thinking. Thanks for reminding me how important it is to do so.

Can’t wait to read everyone else’s submissions. 🙂


Sandy L September 1, 2011 at 3:13 AM

Invest it – Thanks for prodding me to do it again. I really enjoy reading the stories from across the web. I’ll have the make the next one a little less personal so more people feel compelled to participate.


Squirrelers August 30, 2011 at 9:00 PM

These are all great tips, Sandy. It seems like they were truly realized on your end through direct life experience.

I still can’t understand your cousin’s behavior…as I’ve said here multiple times. Shameful, based on stuff you shared previously here. Money absolutely, positively, does not buy true respect. Totally agree.


Sandy L September 1, 2011 at 3:16 AM

Squirreler – I have mixed feelings about my cousin. On the one hand I want to pick apart what’s happened with him and try to understand it so it doesn’t happen with my own children, but on the other hand, I have sort of written him off in my life, so I really don’t want to spend too much time ruminating over it. We’ll see how much more I will write on this.


Squirrelers September 2, 2011 at 8:53 PM

I can possibly relate on some levels. There is someone who I want to analyze to understand dysfunction, but logical side of me just wants to just say forget it and not worry about someone could get to a point of certain behavior. It’s harder to understand sometimes when it’s family.


Molly On Money August 30, 2011 at 9:06 PM

Great topic- I really enjoyed writing on it. I can relate to your point on ‘if you tell yourself something long enough…’. The negative things I tell myself really hold me back and the times I’ve been totally positive I’ve done things that were huge for me.


Sandy L September 1, 2011 at 3:18 AM

Molly – yes. I can be the same way. I can be extremely insecure and self deprecating about some things. Most people can achieve a lot as long as they believe in themselves and want to put the time in to pursue their dreams and goals.


Cynthia August 30, 2011 at 11:45 PM

Thank you for this topic, Sandy. It was a pleasure to write on it, and I loved reading your take on learning from dysfunction. I particularly liked the part about working with your dreams: having them, and then assessing how they’re working for you. Very sensible — too often I get hung up on the big dream and get all bogged down in the nitty-gritties of it all.


Sandy L September 1, 2011 at 3:19 AM

Cynthia – Welcome and thanks for your great article. Do come back soon. It’s a great little hangout here. I will try to do these once a month and hope you participate in the next one too.


Andrew @ 101 Centavos August 31, 2011 at 8:00 AM

Great examples to live by, Sandy. Sad to read about your SOB cousin again. After I wrote the post on my grandfather, a few more dysfunctional family examples came to mind, but I ran the post anyway.


Sandy L September 1, 2011 at 3:20 AM

101 – no stopping you from writing more articles. I can link to those as well. Regarding Cousin…see my comment to squirreler.


Jacq August 31, 2011 at 1:05 PM

Sandy, can you please do a post on your pantry and fridge and freezer control methods, or point it out to me if you already have. I suck at menu planning (am a spur of the moment `oooh let`s make this` cook) and just do batch cooking but I need a better method like your one in, one out – which is what I do for other kinds of things to reduce clutter.


Sandy L September 1, 2011 at 3:26 AM


Jacq – I do have at least one article here. I love the method I use and it’s greatly reduced my pantry clutter by identifying foods that I don’t use as often as I thought in my head.

I also have a love hate relationship with my bottom freezer. It’s much smaller than the freezer I had with my side by side, so I can’t stockpile as much….but I can’t stockpile as much, so I manage to rotate food much more efficiently now. It’s rare that I ever pull out that freezer burned bit of meat and torture myself over whether I should eat it or throw it out.


Jacq September 1, 2011 at 12:00 PM

Ooh, thanks Sandy. Will be bringing out the Sharpie and making lots of O’s. Maybe 🙁 ‘s.
I seem to think that everyone in the family loves risotto as much as I do (they don’t) and it can be such a pain to cook sometimes, and you can’t cook and freeze the stuff.


Suba September 2, 2011 at 7:03 PM

Great lessons Sandy. I esp. loved the part about “Always have Dreams and Work Towards Achieving Them”. My mother was always like that but my father was more of a pessimist. So she has struggled with that part of my father for a long time. That taught me never to give up without trying and failing. I would prefer to have tried and failed than to not have tried at all and keep guessing what would have happened…

I try to practice the don’t rely on other to make you happy, but that I am still not very successful.


Justin @ MoneyIsTheRoot September 13, 2011 at 9:57 AM

what a refreshing read! this was a really nice article.


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