Electric Dreams

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The Changing Family

Christopher Hicks 

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Hicks, Christopher (1996 January). DreamLine: The Changing Family. Electric Dreams 3(1). Retrieved from Electric Dreams July 27, 2000 on the World Wide Web: http://www.dreamgate.com/electric-dreams  

black and white scene:

A low-rider Monte Carlo speeds down a narrow residential street in the harshest of urban ghettos. As it approaches a small white, well kept house the "tat-tat-tat-tat-tat" of automatic gun fire can be heard. From within the car two fully automatic micro-uzi's spray the home with deadly bullets. Three children in the yard are struck down by these small projectiles. A woman runs from within the house only to see her children lying in the yard. She looks to the street. The car, speeding away, is driven by Ward Cleaver. The gunman, Beaver and his younger adopted brother, who just happens to be in a gang, are now shooting at parked cars. Isn't it nice of Ward to Chaperon them on their drive-by shooting?
The family serves many purposes that range from raising children to providing an emotional home, or foundation for its members. Family is such an integral part of the human condition that its existence is represented in that mysterious realm that Jung referred to as the Collective Unconscious. Yet here, on the brink of the new century, the traditional ideas of family are becoming a thing of the past. For many, the modern archetypes of the working father and stay-at-home mother are nothing more than stories told by grandparents. The most common replacements are the single-parent and two-income households. Such dramatic changes must effect us both as individuals and as a society.

On an individual level adjusting to the new faces of our families can cause intense emotional stress and conflict. It is entirely natural for these to cross from the waking-world into our dreams. In the responses to the request for dreams of family I find not a single dreamer from a traditional family. What I do find is a dynamic group of dreams that illustrates the unchanging responsibilities of families, the pain that results from dysfunctional family systems, and the struggle of our dream- selves to accept and understand the passing away of the traditional family. One series of dreams, from a dreamer whose mother raised the children on her own after the father had left, is filled with images of the dreamer's mother and siblings in roles of guides and friends. Another dream finds the dreamer flying through a solar system of planets with two stars at their center. The dreamer shares comments that, upon awakening from this dream, she felt it was symbolic of her family, where both her mother and father have to work at full-time jobs just to provide for the family. It seems that, from a subjective viewpoint, our dream-selves, while acknowledging the changes in structure, point toward the fact that the roles of the family have not changed.

What of the more objective Dreamtime perspective that stems from somewhere deeper in the human psyche? In reviewing the dreams received for this column I find many occurrences that can be interpreted as attempts at reconciling the idea of the traditional family and the changing family of our modern society. In some dreams, confrontations between the dreamer and archetypes, who can be interpreted as representing family members of the dreamers who have not fulfilled their responsibilities, explode in action and emotion. One example of this can be seen in a dream where the dreamer is exchanging deadly lightning bolts with God (complete with long, flowing white hair and full beard) on the playground of the dreamer's childhood elementary school. In comments that accompanied the dream the dreamer shares that her father had left her family's household during her childhood. He did not just leave the household, but ceased to be part of her life at all after that. With this knowledge the dream battle with God can be seen as a vivid illustration of the dreamer's remaining anger toward her father and an attempt at reconciling her father with the idea of a traditional father.

In another dream the dreamer is in a large office building where he works. It is after hours and the place is empty except for a cleaning woman who turns out to be the dreamer's mother. She smiles at the dreamer as she works. As she continues to work the dreamer watches her transform into a man wearing a business suit. This man looks at the dreamer with contempt. The dream progresses with this character transforming back and forth several times; each time retaining a few more qualities of both the mother and the business man. Finally the dream character approaches the dreamer. The mother/business man hugs the dreamer and then hands him an over-sized check (the dreamer cannot recall the amount). After corresponding with the dreamer, who is a single-parent, I find that he looks at this dream as a reminder that the balance of providing both financial and emotional support to children is especially difficult for single-parents. He also admits to a degree of contempt toward his children in that he must invest so much more time in work to provide for them. This dream can also be viewed from the larger perspective of a blending of the dreamer's anima, to use another of Jung's terms, in the context of our modern, monetary-oriented and driven society.

Keeping one foot in the Dreamtime let us turn back to the waking- world. The structures of families are changing, but their underlying roles are the same. In some cases the changing families continue to provide for the needs of their members. However, all too often, the changes lead to a dysfunctional system. Unfortunately this leads to more than disturbing or unsettling dreams. In the best cases the family's members, not having a good model to work toward, end up with their own dysfunction system, which perpetuates this unhealthy cycle. In the worst cases the children of the families suffer physical, sexual, and/or emotional abuse. Many of these children turn to the surrogate families provided by urban gangs that instill twisted morals and tendencies toward violent behavior.

The traditional family may not be dead, but it is certainly on the endangered species list. In its place is not some empty void, but a diverse range on family systems, some of which push the outer limits of what is considered family. It would be so wonderful for all of us if every one of these new families was healthy and adaptive, but only a fool could think this to be true. Our dreams do not turn away from this terribly complex issue, but embrace it with all the magic and symbolism that is their very essence.

Yet, all the magic and symbolism in all of our dream-worlds combined is nothing more than food for thought unless we can use it to move toward some positive actions. On an individual level we can each be open to what our dreams show us about our own families. Everyone is part of a family in some way or another. And along with membership comes certain responsibilities. The financial aspects are very concrete. In order to provide shelter and food one must have money, which necessitates working in some form or fashion. The emotional aspects, on the other hand, are more abstract and in greater danger of becoming clouded.

In looking back at the dream examples one sees the emotional responsibilities of the family are most prominent, both where the changing families have been successful at meeting them and where they have not. Our dreams have flagged an area to be aware of here! We can actively search our dreams for images and situations that might reflect whether or not we are meeting our emotional responsibilities as parents, siblings, spouses, and children. Where we find that we are lacking we can strive to grow!

But what of society, the larger family? How can our dreams guide us here? Families are changing. Many are failing to meet their responsibilities during and after these changes. Because the smaller family units are failing we have members of our society that are not well adapted or productive, which contributes to the many social problems that exist. So, by working in the context of our own families we are, in effect, working on a societal scale. In addition to using our dreams to work on growing in the roles of our own families we can emphasize the importance of family by sharing our "family dreams" with people around us (family, friends, co-workers), thus increasing others' awareness of their own families. This, too, will contribute to positive growth on a larger scale.

Both of the above examples work rather indirectly on the societal family. There are many actions we can take that may have more direct effects. We can seek out and volunteer time to programs in our communities that promote healthy families. In many communities there are support groups for single-parents. These types of programs help, not only to give support, but also provide a non-threatening environment in which to learn how to become better parents. Of course, there are also many programs that provide support and guidance for the children. A well known example of one such program is the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program, which provides surrogate male/female role models to children whose families, for whatever reason, do not have such role models.

The examples above are just that. I encourage all of us to use the unique perspectives that come to us only in our dreams as tools to better ourselves, our families, and our world. If more people looked from their dreams into the waking-world and said, "Yeah, that could work!", this waking-world would be a much better place!

--Christopher Hicks
email: shadow45@netonecom.net