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Forget Nuclear Family Norms: 4 Teachings from Mom and Dad’s Garage

I was the MC for my friend’s wedding recently, and after I had spent the whole night gushing (between speeches) about what a perfect match the couple was, I shared this little tale of my own troubles, “Thanks so much for listening me talk all night! It has been such a pleasure, and I wanted to share a very quick story about me on my quest to find my very own perfect match. If you know me, you know I have kind of become notorious for being single. I am 26 now and haven’t had a boyfriend in awhile, and so I was chatting with my roommate about MCing this wedding, and how the bride and groom are the perfect match, and then I asked her, ‘Mom, why do you think I haven’t found my perfect match yet?'”

Only those who knew me super well knew I wasn’t kidding about having my mom as a roommate.  I moved back home to save a few bucks while investing my time and money into building my own bustling business and hope that one day I will be able to buy mom and dad the vacation home they so deserve (wouldn’t that be nice, mom?).

But this blog isn’t about why I moved home – it is about 4 Lessons I have learned from Mom and Dad’s garage.

Once you are eighteen it is time to leave home and start a career and get married and live happily ever after and only return home for quick visits on holidays. Right?

As mentioned above, I haven’t exactly followed that model.

While I am not suggesting everyone move back home at the age of 26, I am here to tell you four reasons why you should consider stomping on the traditional nuclear family model.

  1. As adults, your sibling rivalries can turn into your most favourite friendships.

In your teens, borrowing your sister’s shirt without asking may have resulted in a serious scramble followed by two-weeks sans speaking. When my sisters come home now and see me in their clothes, all that happens is a comment and a smile, “Nice shirt.”  This is a seemingly simple expression of the development of the sister relationship, but what it suggests at a deeper level is serious.

Marcy, Sandy, Jacqie, and Shanley (“Five girls?! Your poor dad!” – Yes, I know what you are thinking. Six women if you include my lovely bubbly mother) don’t spend as much time here as I do, but one of them returns at least two nights a week, another stays probably 6-10 nights a month, and the other two pop in whenever they get a chance.

Throughout these visits, many phone calls, and many glasses (bottles?) of wine my sisters have become my most prized pals. I tell them about my most daunting dreams and severe struggles and they hear me out and share their own stories. We laugh together. We comfort each other when we cry (OK – maybe they comfort me while I cry, haha). We are each others toughest critics and biggest cheerleaders. Jacqie also owns her own business and is constantly helping me brainstorm new ideas for improving mine, and I do the same for her. Shanley is the best for a listening ear and is the most authentic human being when she is around me; she doesn’t put any guards up and she teaches me a lot about being real. Marcy is the most magnificent mom and demonstrates what it means to be selfless and yet somehow also original.  Sandy is the most hilarious but also so driven to help others and discover her own potential as a musician.

Had I not moved home, I would not get to call my sisters my best friends.

I also have the pleasure of working with these two beauties - my sisters Jacqie and Shanley. How lucky am I to get to spend my days with two sisters who encourage and challenge me to be better. Photo Credit: Warne Noyce
I also have the pleasure of working with these two beauties – my sisters Jacqie and Shanley. How lucky am I to get to spend my days with two sisters who encourage and challenge me to be better?!
Photo Credit: Warne Noyce
  1. “It takes a village to raise a child.”

My middle sister brings her beautiful daughter with her each time she visits and I get to spend more time being an aunty than most people do. I have watched her grow from a tiny baby to a one-year-old running around; she leaves you wondering how such a cute, tiny human can do so much damage – trashing the place in a matter of minutes. One minute she is on my lap, the next moment grandma is chasing after her, and in still another minute it is grandpa’s turn.  Her mother has repeated the quote, “It takes a village to raise a child.” I don’t know how parents do it without the help of others.


Many of my mornings are spent sneaking from my garage house back over to the main cabin to watch Elmo with Evie, or eating my breakfast while I watch grandpa and grandma take turns reading to this lovely little being.

These are memories I would miss out on if I hadn’t moved back home. If I didn’t live here, I would have to watch Evie grow up from afar, and her eyes might not light up in the same way when she hears the sentence, “It’s aunty Clown-Hair!” (my nickname, for my red hair).

  1. The more time you spend with your family, the more you can understand each other, and feed into each others ambitions.

I am beyond grateful that my entire family is into fitness. We each have unique goals: mom’s goal is to remain healthy, manage her weight, and reward herself for every completed workout with a pop tart; I have my eye on the national podium for weightlifting and powerlifting (this also involves pop tarts); and Jacqie achieved her peak physique by competing in a bikini competition (less pop tarts).  We have different strategies for eating well, but we all want to be healthy.  In the mornings we pass the bottle of fish oil around the table.  It is possible to build a powerful accountability structure out of the family you have been gifted with.

From being around my fam so much, they have learned more about me – what makes me tick – and about my goals. They understand that I need quiet space a lot of the time, and they get how vital my training is.

My mom and dad help me by cooking for me often, and I help them by making mom a workout program or showing my dad exercises he can do to help his sore shoulder.

Since I am able to work with my sisters at the gym, we discuss the benefits of different exercises and chat about nutrition. We share ideas about how to better serve our clients.

I understand that if your family has negative habits spending time around each other could have the opposite effect, but I would like to mention my family has not always been this way. This is the healthiest we have ever been. If your family is not practicing positive habits  you can choose to be the initiating force for a profound impact by performing your healthy rituals around them. As they witness your transformation you will be surprised how many things they just might start trying! Before you know it your family just might be like mine: passing around a bottle of fish oil in the mornings!

  1. Any man who takes up the gauntlet is probably worth it.

If you have a family like mine, they will honestly tell you what they think about any suitor you bring home. My mom takes a liking to any and every boy, probably because she never had one. My sisters on the other hand? They tell it like they see it. Especially my little sister – with Shanley, you are guilty until proven innocent.

Any of the men that have stuck around long enough to put a ring on one of my sister’s fingers have passed the test; they have taken up the gauntlet, and they have survived (one of them “won” my sister in a rec hockey game against my dad, who is a goaltender). Although these husbands and fiancés might get the occasional glare from Shanley, they have confirmed that they can love my sisters through thick and thin. They accept our family for our quirks, and they have adapted to our traditions. Holidays are often spent cracking jokes at the expense of anyone and everyone. Somedays I am the one who gets picked on for living in a garage down by the lake. Other days my sisters make jokes about mom, saying that they looked at the wrinkle on her forehead as an example of what was to come for them, and chose to get botox for troubleshooting purposes.

My dad brings a unique aspect to the test.  I think one of the reasons it has been such a challenge for me to find my man is because of the standard my dad has set. Growing up, he would rush the ten-hour-drive home from work just to take me to a hockey tournament. He would be home for a day and a half and then head 10 hours back to work to bring home the bacon to take care of his girls. In another role, my dad secured for himself the nickname “Stalker Stan” for the way he watched us like a hawk. If we went for a drive with a guy, you might just look back and see Stalker Stan in your shadow at what he assumed was a safe distance. I remember once I had a boy over and we were in the computer room on MSN or whatever kids did at that age. Dad opened the door with a crack just big enough to give the guy a good glare. Then he closed it. Then he opened it and did the same. Close. Open. Glare. Three times he did this. I just laughed, though I don’t know how my suitor felt.

Us girls are everything to my mom and dad, and any man who is going to whisk us away better be worth it. My sisters are all strong and honest women and you better not piss them off. My family is like a dating filter. Had I not spent as much time with them as I have, I may have settled for a man less than they’ve taught me that I deserve.

So, what?

I believe we are meant to be interdependent, and not independent. We each have beautiful unique gifts to offer the world, that compliment those of others. We can best foster these gifts if we surround ourselves with a support group of people who bolster us when we are weak and humble us when we feel too strong. You might be surprised how much your family can build each other up when you are all responsible adults, but really, you probably shouldn’t be! No one knows you better than your mother, your father, and your siblings – they have watched you grow up and even if they didn’t always express it in the way you wanted, they have been your biggest cheerleaders in times of both success and struggle. Although their ideas of “what is best for you” might not exactly match yours, spending more time with them will vastly open up their minds to your vision for your life.

Although I am not suggesting everyone move back home at the age of 26, I am advocating you forget the Western tradition of leaving home at 18 and only returning on holidays. Figure out what this means for you. Maybe it means staying home until you are 20 (please work and pay for your own stuff, so your parents do not have to). Perhaps it does mean, like me, moving home for a short time during your 20s so you can launch your own business under less financial stress.  Or perhaps it means trashing the plans you had for this weekend, and instead traversing to visit a family member – and making this a regular occurence.

Finally, I think we can learn from other cultures on this. I know some First Nations cultures used to have the man marry into the woman’s family and live with them for a time. Many First Nations people still live with extended families; grandmothers and grandfathers or aunties and uncles help raise the children – because of this, I believe many of our Indigenous people experience more meaningful relationships with their families.

Whatever works for you, toss the traditional roles and neglect the expectations of the nuclear family; learn to see your family as your finest friends, and spend your seasons accordingly. These teachings from my parents’ garage down by the lake have proven transformational for me, and though I hope my time here won’t be too prolonged, you can bet I am going to continue to enjoy every second of it and I will never again take family for granted.

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