Does Your Family Have a Designated Donkey?

This is 31 Conversations From the Front Porch Day 27 – Does your family have a designated donkey? – you can find the rest of the series here.

31 conversations from the front porch with jkmcguire

Day 27: Does Your Family Have a Designated Donkey?

Families often joke about birth order. There are common ideas of what it is to be the firstborn, middle, baby, or only child.  The firstborn is likely to be either nurturing and people-pleasing or downright rebellious; the middle child is jokingly referred to as the favorite one who can do no wrong or they are completely left out and ignored; and it is the babies who get everything they want all while hating their position as baby. Only children have a mixing of all of the above.

I’m not sure that I agree with all of the ideas that come with discussing birth order, but I do know there is a common occurrence in families that is rarely discussedwhat most people often forget to mention is the family’s Designated Donkey.

It is an actual position. I married one. True Story. I am related to a few. I won’t name any names.

They have a special and very unique role in the family. They are the ones labeled: party-poopers and Ass. The ones who never show up the way that we want. Who seem to consistently disappoint us with their life choices and ideas. They squash any illusion we may have had about our families. They do not make the family look good probably because they do not find us as amazing as we find ourselves. 

They are the one person in the family we can point to and nitpick and talk about and judge – because picking at them makes us ultimately feel better about our own life choices.

your familys definitions jkmcguire

The family’s designated donkey is always on the outs…. And some families thrive when at least one person is on the outs.

Thus the need for a designated donkey.

I think the designated donkeys see the family more clearly then we would like them to.

We have a vested interest in them not being right about us.

They may have born the brunt of painful shaming for so long that they don’t care if they are seen as the family ass.

They don’t care if you are right about them or wrong about them.

At the end of the day our family labels no longer matter to them.

While it isn’t easy being the family’s designated donkey – it certainly has some perks.

it's not easy being the family's designated donkey

Sometimes this donkey designation is warranted – seriously the uncle who has been high for two decades, and is continually attempting to bum cash off of grandma is most likely an actual ass.

Other times the donkey label is far from true. They may simply be making choices for self-care and preservation that make their families uncomfortable. No one likes to feel that they are possibly the reason that someone does not want to show up or can not show up. It can be really hard to swallow not being wanted or needed in the ways that we want to be wanted or needed.

Most of time there is a really good chance that we have labeled the wrong ASS.

We are hardwired for connection (Brene Brown says that) and so how we experience shame is tied tightly to rejection (real or imagined) and our families of origin.

  • If someone does not want us the way that we want them to want us – that can be devastating.
  • If they don’t make us look as good as we need them to make us look good.
  • If they are not maintaining the family image it can be really painful.
  • If they are not offering us the respect we think we deserve – because they are being an ass or because we really don’t deserve it – it can lead to anger and frustration and pain.

And in the process as a family we often make a choice then to attack and label the “designated donkey” instead of trying to understand why they need to distance themselves from us. We rarely lean in to find out what that Designated Ass actually feels about their place or lack of place in our midst. 

Family is messy because people are messy. The only families that are not messy are those who are in denial or dead.

We each have a role that we play when we gather together. We each have labels that have been placed upon us a long time ago. Sometimes those labels are true – but not the whole story. Other times those labels are unfair and unwarranted.

Whatever the label and whatever the reason….Just because you have been labeled the designated donkey doesn’t mean that you are one.

You do have a choice.

Although, like I said, there are perks to be the family’s designated donkey.

For one thing holidays are less stressful and quiet.

And quiet is a nice thing.

steve maraboli quote misery blame anger cycle

Exercises For Your Own Front Porch Conversations

“When I left, they were stuck with the burden of finding someone else to blame for their life…Pointing their anger everywhere, but never looking in the mirror… Continuing the cycle that led to their misery.” (Steve Maraboli)


  • Does your family have a designated donkey?
  • What does that look like?
  • Have you noticed it before?
  • Is it warranted? How do you know?
  • Are you the designated ass? Is that warranted? If so, is there anything you can or are willing to do to change it?
  • While we have given roles and labels – our families’ definitions do not have to become our definitions for life.
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