LIFE DOCTOR

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Indy Lifestyle Online
I DON'T often feel sorry for TV presenters. This week though, my heart went out to the Big Breakfast sidekick Kelly Brook. In the celebrity magazine Now there was a piece on Ms Brook - an inside story written by her grandmother.

It was information that only a relative could know - or concoct.

"Kelly had terrible teeth as a child," says granny getting her own teeth stuck in. She tells of Kelly's brace and how she got teased. How she (grandmother) paid for ice skating lessons "but all they did was muck about".

Thanks to the media, we can all enjoy this kind of public exposure. And in the era of the global village - where there are more celebrities than grandmothers - having your bad teeth paraded in a weekly magazine is no different from being gossiped about in the old post office queue.

It may be common but it doesn't help family relations. Barry Mason, director of the Institute of Family Therapy, identifies what goes wrong in families as falling into four principal areas: 1) injustice; 2) betrayal; 3) individuals feeling that they can never come up to scratch; 4) individuals not feeling special enough.

Arguably Kelly could accuse her granny on the first three counts. I would add another: revisionism. My grandmother, like Kelly's, appointed herself the role of human architect, without whom nothing would ever happen.

My grandmother's posthumous interview about me would have as much basis in reality as the Big Breakfast provides insights into the Hang Seng index.

"In 1979 Eleanor tried to steal my violin. Of course she wasn't brought up properly. Her mother had no idea what to do. I had to show her everything."

The role of the family should be one of support. No matter how irritating, ignorant, embarrassing and bigoted they are, you should at least be able to rely on them to be bigoted in your favour. Telling the rest of the world embarrassing stories does not count.

"One of the biggest improvements that could happen in family life," says Barry Mason, "is if family members could be more curious about each other."

If we all practised curiosity, respect and tolerance towards our families, the world would be unrecognisable and family therapists would be out of a job. Give it a go. It is hard to totally despise a family member at the same time as being genuinely curious. My great-aunts would have to have broken their 20-year silence if they were desperate to find out the other's view on the royal wedding.

You should look at how your family works. According to educational psychologist Margaret McAllister, families often follow similar patterns to governments.

1. Democracy. About as good as it gets. Elected leaders are in charge (parents in the early years followed by children in old age). Problems and disagreements are dealt with by compromise.

Solution: If you don't like the rules, protest for change. Confront kindly. If one family member is a complete arse they need to know.

2. Autocracy/Dictatorship. When one person rules the family absolutely. If Kelly Brook's grandmother had forbidden her ice skating lessons in the first place or Kelly had had her granny bumped off for leaking her official secrets.

Solution: Stage a coup, banish the despot into exile.

3. Anarchy. When no one member has expectations. If Kelly's grandmother refused to speak to Kelly for 20 years and gave an interview about her anyway.

Solution: After years of war, it is possible to forget past wrongs. Take small steps towards reconciliation. Life's too short to sulk.

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