Just Because You’re Related Doesn’t Mean You Can Relate

Jodi Barnes, PhD
10 min readFeb 19, 2019


Should you keep trying?

Between the facts of shared DNA, cultural expectations, and the ecstatic families portrayed on social media lies a fiction. It goes something like this: Being related means that we can relate to family members in ways we can’t with those outside the family.

Although we know that being related and being able to relate can be fictional, we tend to hold onto another story: that one day our genetic magnet will pull us closer. It’s the resolution we seek, not unlike a Capra movie. Some of us want a closer kinship so badly, we spend decades trying. And some of us either opt for more space, reducing contact with family members, or we relegate family relationships to a more superficial status. Some opt out altogether.

Because “relate” has a few dozen definitions, I’m using the intransitive verb and especially this meaning:

to understand, like or have a sympathetic relationship for someone

The Myth of One Big (or small) Happy Family

As a young girl of the sixties, I remember hearing my grandfather talk about this or that brother — he had close to 20 (not a typo) siblings — who had wronged him or someone in the family. Because he called himself a hillbilly and was ‘kicked out at 12 because there wasn’t enough food for us’ I simply thought that family strife was the result of scarcity.

But, as I began to learn from my mother and her siblings — who grew up poor but didn’t starve — we were not all that different from grandpa’s clan. My gay uncle was sometimes tolerated but mostly alienated, another uncle incessantly bragged about his fame and fortune (I later realized he was a sociopath), another a kind, joyful man who died of cancer while in his prime, and one a generous artist who seemed the least bothered by family strife.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

My mother was frequently caught in the middle of her own mother’s unmet needs which sometimes manifested in grandma ‘stirring things up’ between her adult children. I saw mom struggle with grandma’s induced drama while mom…



Jodi Barnes, PhD

Writer and Collaborator-in-Chief of https://www.14wordsforlove.com where small acts of writing, art and conversation create multicultural connections for good.