Posted on

Four Ways to Keep Family Harmony

by Emily Sue Harvey

Four Ways to Stay in Tune

1. Fill Your Place. My father’s sudden, accidental death drove this home to me. My biological mother died when I was ten. My wonderful stepmother, my other “Mom,” was my surrogate parent from the tender age of eleven.

Years later, when Dad died, the earth was yanked from beneath me. I wasn’t certain, in those hours, who I was exactly, with 2 full siblings and three half-siblings. Oh, we’d never even used the ‘half’ term. We’re extremely close.

But was Dad, father to us all, after all, the glue? In my initial shocked state, the family unit felt shattered. But hours later, when I entered Mom’s house (not Dad’s anymore) I heard her call, “Susie,” her voice soothing as she sailed like a porpoise and gathered me into her arms. “I’m sorry about Daddy. He’s with your Mama now,” she whispered, tears in her eyes. I was aghast at her selflessness in that moment.

And my place in the family galvanized. I’ve seen family members vacate that space because some sibling, parent, or relative offended them. They were willing to abdicate their rightful position in the orchestra, creating dissonance and frailty of tone. The perception is yours. And only you can take your place. The orchestra is not quite right, a bit hollow, without you there playing your notes.

2. Play the Right Notes. We all hit sour notes in our families. All of us miss opportunities to keep the family harmony solid. One way to do that is to simply ‘be there’ for each other. I’ll never forget failing in that role. While in my teens, with a new boyfriend, my little sister asked me to please ask Lee, my beau, go get some toothache drops. His was the only car available at the moment. Her tooth hurt. Living in a rural area with no corner seven-eleven or pharmacy, I dropped the ball, not willing to ask Lee to aid in the problem.

Looking back, I see that he would have gladly done so but at that time my insecurity prevailed. Later in the evening, an aunt came by, saw Patsy’s problem and immediately drove to a neighbor’s, borrowed the merciful pain reliever and administered first aid to my relieved sister. For years, I carried guilt. I’ve since tried to remedy that lapse. But it was a hard lesson learned about just being there.

3. Re-Tune. Forgive the out-of-tune times. Patsy, my above-mentioned sister, married a Baptist minister. Years after my unconscionable lapse of mercy, she invited me to a “special service” at their little country church. Turned out the service was to honor those SPECIAL ONES in folks’ lives. Patsy stood and began speaking. “I want to honor my sister, Susie, today. She’s always been there for me. Always.” She went on extolling virtues I was supposed to possess. Each word made me feel more despicable, like slithering through the floor cracks. Smiling, she presented me with the certificate bearing my name. Later, after service, I apologized again for that long ago night when she had a toothache. She looked puzzled. “I don’t remember,” she said, shrugging. “But I’ll forgive you anyway. I only remember what a great sister you were, always validating and nurturing me.” She didn’t remember. I was forgiven. Wow. I felt renewed inside and out. It was re-tuning time!


4. It’s Not All About Me. Family is the ultimate, universal orchestra. Family is teamwork at its quintessential best. One reason it’s so effective is that it’s propelled by love. So why do families erupt into chaotic dissonance? It usually starts with a “what about me?” attitude.

Granted, we’re more relaxed with family, more prone to just let ‘er rip with the let’s play fair, now! And that’s okay. We do, to a great degree, police each other within the family unit, do a regular power check and balance. It’s when one or more members refuse to let go of the’ what about me?’… long enough to do family/team negotiation.

The scratchy dissonance grows in direct proportion to the self-absorption, the my way or the highway mentality. My mother’s recent death required our six siblings to perform like the Boston Pops Orchestra regarding the proceedings of the probate, will, organization of estate sale, the actual estate sale, and distribution of the estate.

Two sisters were more able to do the organizing. One, because of health problems, was not able to assist. Two brothers helped with the heavy lifting during organization and estate sale. One brother lived too far away to participate. And guess what? It was okay that four did most of the work. Unconditional love and teamwork made the entire process sound like the Hundred and One Strings Orchestra playing Debussy’s Claire De Lune!

So, tune up your love and take your place in the family band. Make music to the renewal of mind, spirit, and body!

About the Author

Emily Sue Harvey writes to make a difference. Her upbeat stories have appeared in dozens of anthologies including Chicken Soup for the SoulChocolate for WomenFrom Eulogy to JoyA Father’s EmbraceTrue StoryCompassionate Friends Magazine, and Woman’s World. Emily Sue served as president of Southeastern Writers Association in 2008-2009. Peter Miller’s NY Literary and Film Agency represent Emily Sue. Her first novel, Song of Renewal, published by Story Plant, will be released in the spring of 2009. For more information visit Used with permission.

Page last modified or reviewed by AH on December 9, 2010