When they tell you you’re an embarrassment on the family and nothing you’re doing is justified.
When you have to go back to their house, again and again, begging them to love you.
Pissed. Angered. Raging
When you hate yourself for being like this, but you can’t help but succumb, over and over.
When friends ask: When was the last time your mum came to visit? And you answer: She never has. I always go to her.
Loved. Loyal. Confused
At how, despite all the insults they throw at you, they take care of you when you hit rock bottom.
Because you can see all their fears, even when they can’t.
With the never-ending circle of act-argue-brush-under-carpet and how, for once, can we all just be honest with each other?
Conflicting emotions that find a way to coexist.
Do you ever wonder what keeps your family together?
Do you ever fantasise about leaving them and never looking back?
And more importantly … do you know why you’re a part of that family in the first place?
It’s no secret that my relationship with my family’s tumultuous at best. It has its feel-good moments, but they’re short lived. It’s almost like we’re more effective when we’re in conflict.
But over the years, and especially through the most trying of times, I’ve thought long and hard about why on earth I keep them in my life.
Because it’s as simple as this: I have control to keep them in my life, or remove them from it.
So why do I do it?
Why do you?
What do they give you that other relationships don’t?
It must be something. Otherwise we wouldn’t keep going back, would we?
Sometimes, being a part of my family’s humiliating
Like when my mother told me it would be best for everyone if I were dead, and despite those words stabbing my heart to pieces, I still wanted a relationship with her.
So I made it happen.
Because every family I know has issues. Some friends have parents who gave them too much freedom and now they don’t know what they want. Other friends have had uncles that have molested them but they’re still on speaking terms.
But it’s all relative.
And this self-help and development’s for nothing if all we do is run away.
If we keep running away.
If I run away from the family I have right now, how can I expect to nurture the family I create in the future?
If I don’t show tenderness to the children that are in my life right now, what kind of mother will I be to the children I give birth to?
If I don’t take the time to understand what silence from my brother really means, how can I attempt to understand it from my future husband?
It’s easy to run
But staying and dealing? That’s the tough part.
Being loyal to your parents is easy when you’re happy. When mother cooks your favourite food and father gives you some money to help you buy that laptop you’ve had your eye on.
But being loyal to them when, by telling you they’re embarrassed to talk about you with their friends, what they’re really saying is they don’t have the guts to tell them their opinion doesn’t count – that’s the challenge.
It’s easy to be loyal when you’re happy. It’s effortless to think positive thoughts when you’re healthy, fed, warm and laughing. It’s simple to love someone when they’re good to you.
But it’s painful to love someone when they tear you apart with insults because they’re saying the same things to themselves. They’re going through something and you’re their momentary victim.
It’s tough to be loving in the moment. But that’s what love is.
To have the wisdom to take a step back, observe the scene from the third person’s perspective and realise: OK, so that’s what was really going on.
That’s not to say that if your relationships are abusive and genuinely destructive, that you should stay in them for the sake of love and loyalty.
That’s not my choice to make.
And you do have a choice.
You have a choice to live your life on your terms.
But know this:
When you’re making that choice, you’re also choosing the consequences
When you decide you’ll break the rules by not getting married when you’re supposed to and live away from your family, you’ll get all the freedom and all the guilt trips.
You’ll get the silent treatment. Since you’re not doing as your parents say, you’re not worth speaking to.
You’ll be treated as that special case in the family that nobody understands (or tries to) and your cousins will be encouraged to avoid you.
You’ll be at the centre of cautionary tales told to misbehaving daughters about the tragedy that befalls girls when they don’t listen to their parents.
You won’t be allowed to get too close to youngsters in your family for fear you’ll influence them.
You’ll be the outcast.
You’ll be judged.
You’ll phone your mum and have to tolerate her monotone answers as you desperately try to make conversation. She’ll be so pissed that she won’t give you the basic respect she’d willingly give to a random stranger on the phone, because your voice reminds her of all of her own faults.
You’ll be blamed for everything that’s wrong in their lives because it’s easier for them to do that, than to deal with the real issue.
Are you willing to risk it?
Are you risking it right now?
If you’d asked me this question ten years ago, I’d likely have answered no. I didn’t know how badly I wanted my freedom. And all those consequences laid out like that would have felt like they were hitting me at once.
And I didn’t want that.
But as the years progressed, and the relationship with my family didn’t, the pain of succumbing outweighed the pain of those consequences.
And so I made my choice.
I chose to live life on my own terms, and in the same breath, I chose the labels I’d eventually get. From society. From the community. From my family.
I chose to let go of the unattainable fantasy that we’d be a big, happy family, having dinner around a huge table like the opening credits of Parenthood.
I chose distance from my own blood, however scarring it would be for all of us.
I chose the fight.
So my question to you, friend, is this:
For everything that you want to gain … what are you equally willing to lose?
Photo credit: Thomas Leuthard
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