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Black Sheep of The Family


Black sheep of the family : Next Avenue Contributor Shayla Stern. Jo Scott Cannon knew she was the family’s black sheep from an early age, and it had something to do with her father’s cow metaphor:

What It’s Like To Be The Family’s Black Sheep

“I was one of six kids growing up in rural South Dakota, and whenever we’d all load into the car, I’d lag behind, and my father would tell me, ‘You’re the cow’s tail — always coming in behind,’” she recalled. “Kids aren’t aware when they’re being ridiculed.

Cannon was known for her early interest and talent for music, as well as her intense defence of her sister with a developmental impairment whenever she was tormented.

Cannon’s peculiarities from her siblings were obvious from an early age and got more noticeable as she grew older.

“I believe that being a black sheep is a result of your willingness to take a risk,” she explained.

Cannon, who now lives in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, earned a music instruction degree from her state university and then travelled to a tiny town in South Dakota to teach for a year, which pleased her family.

She did, however, leave after the school year to study Transcendental Meditation in Spain (TM).

Cannon afterwards travelled to Switzerland to work as a cook for a Transcendental Meditation community while studying with the Maharishis there.

“It was an amazing experience because the folks performing it were so honest and kind,” she said.

“However, when I returned (after two years), it found out that my father was really humiliated that I was teaching TM and was looking for an alternative religion.

My family was perplexed by this.” Despite the fact that this happened over 40 years ago, she still feels like the family’s black sheep.

The Golden Child vs. The Black Sheep

Elizabeth Dorrance Hall, a director of the Family Communication and Connections Lab at Utah State University and an assistant professor of communication, has produced research on black sheep and difficult family relationships.

She favours the term “marginalised family members” to describe black sheep.

Family provides most people with a feeling of identity, place, and connection, according to her research, but family is culturally manufactured in the same way that family tales are.

There are cultural expressions such as ‘You can select your friends, but you can’t choose your family,’ as well as media images of families,” Dorrance Hall said.

“We commonly talk about having a black sheep and a golden kid as two major positions among siblings, and many people believe that someone ought to fulfil both duties.”

It’s also human nature for family members to reject or isolate a family member who behaves differently than the others, according to Dorrance Hall.

She believes that making them feel as if they’re doing something wrong will help them recognise their mistake and “bring them back into the community.”

“This isn’t only something that happens in families. “If you have a coworker who is consistently late, you might marginalise him or her to teach him or her that this is not acceptable,” she suggested.

“What goes on in families has more layers, but it’s human nature to marginalise those who act differently or display a different identity.”

Who is most frequently referred to as the family’s black sheep?

Frequently, they are children who fall in love with or marry someone their family considers unsuitable (sometimes because they identify as LGBTQ).

Additionally, they may have abandoned a family religion or hold distinct values or political ideas.

When a Herd of Black Sheep Congregates

Jo Scott Cannon married another “black sheep” from South Dakota, whose family labelled him as such due of his progressive political ideas and anti-Vietnam position, which differed from that of his family members.

“People said, ‘That makes sense since you’re both insane,’” her husband Pat explained.

(The couple has two adult children and has been married for 40 years.)

He described himself as a “contrarian or provocateur” in his family. “However, I’m not easily satisfied.

My parents were strict Catholics who had this indomitable hopefulness that pervaded that World War II group.

I’m the second oldest of five children, and we were extremely fortunate in our family, but my parents were very strict Catholics and had this indomitable hopefulness that pervaded that World War II group.

I questioned it at the time, and now I’m utterly removed from everything.”

Cannon has maintained relationships with his parents and brothers throughout his life, just like his wife.

They simply avoid discussing politics. “There was no doubt that I was the odd man out in my family, but not in a bad way,” says the author “he stated

Resilience and Stress

Maintaining family communication and connection, according to Dorrance Hall and fellow researcher Kristina Scharp, assistant professor and co-director of Utah State’s Family Communication and Relations Lab, is a key differentiator between people who identify as black sheep and people who are truly estranged from their families.

Family alienation occurs when ties are severed for an extended length of time or when relationships are in a “chronic, cyclical condition of being on and off again,” according to Scharp.

Both alienated and marginalised family members, on the other hand, are continuously looking for a distance balance that works for them.

“People want to come closer, but once they do, they frequently discover that the same issues that drove them away are still present, and they end up gaining additional distance,” Scharp explained.

“It becomes a chaotic disassociation, but unlike most breakups, where you can say, ‘I don’t like you anymore and you’re done,’ you can’t do that with a family. You’ll never be finished.”

Both researchers agree that maintaining estrangement or negotiating a role as the family’s black sheep is extremely stressful.

Many ostracised family members have spent their entire lives as the family’s black sheep. However, as individuals approach their 50s and 60s, they may be able to make sense of the situation.

According to Scharp and Dorrance Hall, they may have developed resilience techniques through time.

Many people refer to themselves as “black sheep” as if it were a badge of honour.

This is especially true for “positive deviants,” as Scharp and Dorrance Hall define them: persons who make positive changes in their life and the world yet are still shunned by family members.

“It may be a woman who went to school for an astrophysics degree and her parents asked, ‘What are you doing?’

We trained you to be a good mother and teacher so you could spend your summers at home, and now you’re getting a Ph.D.

and speaking a language other than ours,’” Dorrance Hall added. “I think that’s a good thing, but family members may see it as a danger because that person is changing and they can’t accept it.”

Jo understood she was still the black sheep of the family and probably an outcast in the social circles of her town when she returned to South Dakota from Europe and worked as a musician and music teacher, but she handled it in stride.

“I remember the older ladies in my mother’s Ladies Aid Society group saying, ‘Whatever you do, Jo, don’t change,’ and I knew they thought I was odd, but it wasn’t that bad,” she recounts.

Pat said he’s long accepted his status as a black sheep and sees it as a defining feature of who he is.

“Why would you want to run with the flock once you learn you don’t need to?” he said.

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