My mother and I had very different upbringings. She had shoddy parents that beat the shit out of each other and terrorized the kids, and I had a very busy single parent that never raised a hand to me, but tried really hard to make my childhood very happy. She had two siblings, and for most of my life I was an only child. She grew up with lots of cousins and family get-togethers, and I’ve been to one family reunion since we left Florida when I was 6. She grew up in a small southern town, and I grew up in middle class suburbia. These differences made us two very distinctly different people, but the biggest difference between my mother and I is our views on family.
Having grown up with lots of family around all the time and playing with cousins and stuff, she really values family. We once got in a fight because she wanted to move back to Pensacola, and I told her that she absolutely could. She got mad at me for not wanting to go back with her, and yelled at me about how I have family there and that when she dies I might want them. I had to tell her that I don’t care. I had to tell her how I’ve already reconciled that at some point I’m going to be alone in the world, and that I’m actually fine with that. She cried. She doesn’t like how distant I always am.
She talks to our family. I do not. One thing that she keeps bringing up is that she never sees my cousin’s brother or sister in law comment on my cousin’s facebook and how she hopes they didn’t have a falling out, even though the sister in law is the definition of a holier-than-thou Southern Christian who can’t keep her mouth shut. “It would be unfortunate for them to have a falling out, seeing as they’re brother and sister.” My mother was very close to her brother. Less to her sister, but she tried like hell to be.
Another thing she comments on a lot is how when my grandmother was young, something happened where her brother’s wife did something to get my grat-aunt fired, and so my mom’s grandmother decided that the family wasn’t going to speak to the brother anymore. And that’s what happened. It’s regrettable. It was stupid. When my great-grandmother found out her husband was sneaking off to see him, she threw my great-grandfather out of the house. She still fed him… he just lived in the basement, now. This is important because at some point my grandmother tried that on my mother, and forbade her to speak to my grandfather again. My mother said no, and asked my grandmother who she thought she was to demand such a thing. At which point my grandmother realized she could have talked to her brother if she’d just had a backbone… and it was a whole thing. My mother doesn’t support not talking to family for any reason. You need your family. You forgive your family, and even if they’re wrong, you work around it and love them just the same.
So then there’s me. I haven’t spoken to my dad or sisters in a number of years. I didn’t mean to stop talking to my sisters, but when I stopped talking to dad they took it personally. It wasn’t a great loss, to be honest. We were never close, but fortunately they’re close to each other. I didn’t make a big thing out of it, but I had to do what was right for me and my mental health. I never managed to reconcile how I feel about my dad, so when he disappointed me, I never knew if I hated him or just felt sad or what. All I knew is that interacting with him always seemed to hurt, and if we weren’t going to try and work that out, or better put: if I wasn’t going to tell him that we needed to work it out, then I had to do something to save myself. It’s not right to hurt. So, I stopped talking to him… and when my half-sister eloped and asked me to her party at dad’s and I declined, she asked me why I acted like I wasn’t part of the family.
What my sister never understood, and I could never expect her to understand, is that I never like part of the family. It’s not her fault, and I never blamed her for any of it. It wasn’t her fault that no one explained to her who I was as a kid, so it took her a good year to really grasp that we shared a dad. She’s always call him HER dad, and I used to correct her, but gave up pretty quick. It’s not her fault that she’s unfamiliar with the emotions that come with a broken home, because her parents are still together. I’m glad they are. It’s not her fault that she doesn’t get it… or that she was raised by my dad and turned out like kids raised by an alcoholic stoner turn out. She’s not a bad person, as far as I know, and I only wish good things for her.
My stepsister is a different thing all together. She’s the middle of 7 kids her dad had. Her dad was a real asshole, as far as I remember, and she was happy to have my dad around for the most part. Things weren’t all roses between them, and at one point I know she wanted him to adopt her and he never did… but for the most part she ended up with a better dad than she had, if you asked her about it. She never really commented on the whole thing about me and dad. I dunno what she thinks, but she never said anything about it. I appreciated that. I dunno if it was because she understood how I kind of felt or if she just didn’t want to get in the middle of it. I dunno if she’s said things about me to the family, but she never started shit, and that’s good enough, I guess.
Anyways… I also don’t talk to mom’s family. It’s not malicious, I just don’t know them that well and I’m a distant kinda person. Even now, it’s a strain to try and be close with my mother, but I don’t want to hurt her feelings, seeing as she’s the only family member I devoted time to.
So, there’s me, listening to her talk about family, and knowing that I’m everything she doesn’t agree with family doing to each other. Life’s too short to be mad, she says, but when I tell her I’m sorry that I do these things, she says it’s different for me…
Yes, I think, it’s very different. It’s different because you don’t want me to feel bad about the choices I’ve made. You don’t want me to feel like I’m someone you take issue with, because at the end of the day I’m your only family, too.
I’ve asked how it’s different, and she throws out things like me not growing up with my sisters, or how dad should have tried harder, because he’s the parent. Those things aren’t an issue with the rest of the family, though. If you had bad parents, you try and love them anyways. That’s what she did. That’s what she expected the family to do. But not me. If your siblings weren’t great, you did the same. Her sister as white trash mooch as it gets, but mom loves her and tries not to be mad at her just the same. But not me… I’m somehow exempt from the universal laws of how family works.
The vegans often talk about cognitive dissonance when it comes to animal loving people eating meat. People like me couldn’t kill a cow, but we’ll eat one if you package it up for us. This is a lot like that. Mom has a set of beliefs she feels really strongly about, but I create a cognitive dissonance. She doesn’t like how I’ve gone about things, but something won’t let her hold me responsible for my decisions. Somehow it’s everyone else’s fault.
But it’s not.
I don’t regret cutting off the family. I’m not good at family. I’m not good at loving people I barely like. I’m not good at compartmentalizing when I feel slighted just because it’s family and as my mother always says, “if family can’t tell you something, who can?” No one, I feel like… if all you have to say is something shitty, you shouldn’t say that to your family or anyone else. I’m not good at watching people seek my approval for decisions that I completely disagree with. I’m not good at playing house.
I’ll be okay. I’m always okay alone. It’s only other people that make life hard.
Still, every time she says something, I feel like it’s a jab at me. I guess I always will, because I know some part of her really wants me to be different… but I won’t be. Not for her. Not for anyone.