Illusions of shiny-accomplished-contented familyhood

by Lynda Hatcher

The perfect, shiny family

“We cast away priceless time in dreams, born of imagination, fed upon illusion, and put to death by reality.” —Judy Garland

Pat, my counselor for over twenty years, helped me to understand the psychological concept of illusions and how they can box us in to a way of thinking and perceiving our world. In our society, we’re attached to the illusions we’ve created for ourselves and our families; how we think we’re supposed to look to the outside world.

Thank God, I didn’t have to face the Instagram stories of adorable families in their clever lives—back when I was raising my children. Whether it’s a sold-out, solo performance in a dance recital or a blue-blazer accepting high-honors at graduation, these outward signs of shiny-accomplished-contented familyhood are imprinted in our DNA.

We look around us for signs that we’re on track

In our culture, kindergarten starts at ages five or six, college at eighteen, and dreams of marriage might be realized somewhere in the mid-to-late twenties. These milestones fall under our cultural consensus. We’re in tacit agreement about this timeline, how and when a young life is supposed to unfold.

But the truth is, this young life often doesn’t unfold in accordance with our plan, and if addiction enters the picture, all bets are off.

I saw very early that my son, Sam, wasn’t going to hit the marks on our cultural timeline, but I spent years trying to keep him on track. Over time, I endured crippling humiliation that he wasn’t walking in lockstep with his peers. And I ruminated about whether other parents had noticed.

My arms eventually got tired of holding up this whopping illusion

The burden became so unwieldy until finally, I had to let it crash to the ground. Physically and emotionally drained, I relaxed my torso and let the blood rush back into my extremities as I stood solidly in my own truth.

As painful as it might be, ‘doing your work’, as Pat calls the emotional chore of facing your reality, means challenging the illusions you’ve held for so long in a white-knuckled grip. The ‘work’ is to confront your own reality with the most awareness and availability you can muster on any given day. Some days, you’ll be more clear-eyed than others.

“So you wake up and you drift back to sleep,” Pat reminds me. “And you wake up again and you yawn and stretch, but then you fall back into a deeper sleep. It’s a process. Two steps forward, then take a nap. Reckoning with your own truth takes time.”

I asked Pat why it’s like that. She whispers with gentle authority, “because if you woke up all at once, it would just kill you,”

“Your problem is how you are going to spend this one odd and precious life you have been issued. Whether you’re going to spend it trying to look good and creating the illusion that you have power over people and circumstances, or whether you are going to taste it, enjoy it and find out the truth about who you are.”
Anne Lamott


Mothering Addiction: A parent’s story of heartache, healing, and keeping the door open– by Linda Harrison Hatcher. Lynda’s website.

In Mothering Addiction, Lynda Harrison Hatcher tells a heart-wrenching story of her turbulent journey as the mother of a child who desperately struggled with heroin addiction–a story of the daily tests, constant trials, and unending tribulations of raising a son whose life has derailed by drugs. Lynda’s website.

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The lollipop land of shiny faces and perfect families is a dangerous facade

5 thoughts on “Illusions of shiny-accomplished-contented familyhood”

  1. Anne,
    Thank you for coming to our class today. It meant a lot to me and you must have come for a reason. Tonight, my brother, who has been an addict for 17+ years called me before he headed to jail because he violated parole. I was crushed because he had made it 10 months sober from Heroin. As he told me he didn’t want to live this life anymore a red flag went up and I told him to immediately go to the hospital and get an assessment. I noticed today you never spoke about the effect everything had on your other son. I guess I wonder because I am the other kid in this scenario and still carry a lot of pain and shame with me.

    1. Oh wow. Thank God you asked him. My other son did suffer and for a while separated himself because he felt so helpless. It was only after he read my manuscript that he started to understand his brother’s disease and how much he loved his family. At first he was angry. then he had to set a boundary for himself. He was in college for a lot of it. But I felt the guilt as a parent not having spent as much time with Richard with Charles in crisis so often. But a wonderful thing happened. Richard grew up. I, too, was the sibling who didn’t get any of the attention growing up. My brothers issue took up decades of my life. And for many years that was all I heard about from my family. I got used to not sharing much about what I was doing because it was never about me until one day I had to say, “I need you now and I’ve never asked before.” And that changed things.

      One thing I can say is that it’s never wrong to let your loved one know they are loved. Those relapses are not failures although they feel that way. The one with SUD is the most devastated. And listening, writing, visiting is your biggest secret weapon. He is just plain lucky to have you as part of his recovery even when it’s not going well.

      Education is your best ally. Which as an MSW student you are aware of. But it feels personal. It’s not. This is the song Charles wrote that really helped me understand how awful he felt about himself. https://annemoss.com/2016/06/02/drugs-charles-aubrey-rogers/

      And this one. Hard to watch but illustrates how much he loved his family. https://annemoss.com/2016/06/04/forgive-momma-charles-aubrey-rogers/

      And I have hundreds of posts on addiction here. You are a good sister. And the best thing I ever did for myself and my son was to go to Families Anonymous. Because I finally realized I needed recovery. It wasn’t just Charles who was sick. It was me, too and so I wanted to change my behavior. Thanks for writing and reaching out. It was a pleasure to speak to you today and share my family’s story.

  2. This is a great post and Judy Garland’s quote is excellent. I have had to let go of the helium-filled balloon that represented the hopes, dreams and expectations I had for my son. His life is not mine to live nor claim responsibility for. I am getting very good at congratulating my friends whose children have hit all the marks right on time. I realize it is unlikely that I will have a grandchild in the future but it’s not about me and, as long as he is alive, there is still hope. I still have him, so it’s a sin to complain.

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