We talk to each other on the phone
Nothing much of nothing
So many topics not to be discussed
Stepping around the land mines of opposing views
The things we say don’t matter, have no connection
The only thing we have in common is the past
Mother, father and child
Years later and light-years apart
Idle chit chat of dinners out and what the lawn man said about the hedges
Have you heard from your children
And I pass along the news of the next generations
As we talk, I find myself wondering
Why do I even bother to talk to them
I owe them nothing, I have no debt to the past
I have fulfilled my childhood obligations
An obedient child, bowing to their authority
Learning how to lie and be sneaky to get past
The eyes of parents who don’t like small children
We have less to say to each other than
The conversations we have with strangers
I am not that child; I have changed more than they can imagine
They have changed into sad people, waiting to die
I feel sorry for them
Mother is a complainer, nothing makes her happier than to
Grouse and mutter about her health, the clerk who was rude
My father’s staying up all night on the computer
My father is trapped in the house with her and
He hates confrontations so he hides in the Internet
He’s not as vocal about her shortcomings to me
As she is when she speaks about his; even as she laughs
You can tell it makes her angry
Two strangers living in the same house
Even after more than 50 years of marriage
To be honest, I don’t really know these two people
That I call my parents
Our lives diverged when I left home at 18
Thirty-six years later and we’re all of us new people
I have come to a deeper understanding of myself
And I know that the “me of me” is not someone they’d want to know
I think maybe they suspect that as well
So we maintain the façade of familial ties and emotional connections
Where there is none, not any more
And we talk on the phone, speaking nothing much about nothing
Our only link is the past; and our relationship has no future
Family: fam-i-ly; fam-uh-lee, noun
~~a group consisting of parents and children living in a household.
~~all the descendants of a common ancestor
“We are family”; family honor; family dinner; holidays with the family; family time; family rules; family movies.
We have a fairly common idea of what a family is–you know, Mom and Dad, the 2.48 children, house. white picket fence and a cute dog or cat. We buy into this concept of family as the only form that “family” can take. We recognize all the labels of family: mother, father, sister, brother, aunt, uncle, cousin, niece, nephew, grand(label) and if you live long enough, “great-grand”(label). We compare strong relationships to those not related to us with some version of those labels–my “brother from another mother”, “the daughter I never had”, “like a grandmother to me” and so on.
I think that’s backwards. Based on my own (dysfunctional) family, I strongly believe that “family” is NOT “all the descendants of a common ancestor”–or a commonality of genetic information. Just because we share the same genes does not mean I HAVE to love you–or even like you, and they are different things. In theory, families are the ones to whom you can turn to, no matter what, and they will respond in love. In reality, we all know that it doesn’t always turn out that way. And just because we have common DNA doesn’t mean that I have to stop my life to get you out of some mess or lend you money without expecting it to be repaid. You can swap the personal nouns in that one and it would still be true: you don’t have to stop your life and etc.
The concept of family, especially the Norman Rockwell version of American Family, is such an ingrained part of our society’s structure, that we don’t even question it. Most of the time. I have had to question it for several different reasons. Let’s do this chronologically: my parents do not actually like children and probably shouldn’t have reproduced. But that was a part of their generational expectations (marry, have kids, in that order) so it never occurred to them to not have children. And I am grateful to be here (as is my brother, I assume). So I was brought up by an overwhelmingly authoritarian mother. Example: when I was still a baby, when we went to someone else’s house, my mother would spread a small blanket (say, 2 feet square) and place me and my toys on it. I was not allowed to go off of that blanket. People were impressed by my ability to not get under their feet or demand things from Mother, just sit there and play quietly. (The thought of doing this to my children still gives me the willies.)
As I grew older, there was still the hard-line rules and the unspoken but definitely understood requirement of complete and immediate obedience. I got spanked if I didn’t do what I was supposed to–or if I did something that I wasn’t supposed to. My mother usually punished me–she used a wooden spoon as her method for spanking. One time though, I did something real bad (and in hindsight, it was something very foolish–but childish) and my father spanked me. With a leather belt. I was 7 or 8 years old at the time.
We lived overseas for several years and at one point, there was no English-speaking school. So my mother home schooled me. Three or four hours in the morning, then we’d have lunch, then she let me go outside. I wandered all over the local area, for hours at a time. I was allowed to go to the beach by myself but with very strict instructions of NEVER entering the water. I was smart enough then to know that if I did go in, I’d have to dry off before going home. (The only time I ever broke that rule wasn’t even for swimming–I was offered a chance to water ski. Complete strangers (but a woman, if that makes a difference) and she asked if I’d like to try–they were using a sort of beginner’s skis–one wide ski with two foot holders. I got on in the surf, rode out and around and landed back up on the beach. Not a single drop of water on me!)
Let me reiterate that for you: I was out of the house, beyond my mother’s vocal range, doing whatever with no supervision. I went to the beach and built sand castles; I played in a little group of evergreens that made “rooms” between their trunks. I walked around the other houses and made friends with an old lady who spoke no English and I spoke very little Thai…but I’d go inside her house, she’d give me cookies and a drink and we’d watch some Thai kick-boxing together. Then I’d go home. I don’t know if I ever told my parents about her. I learned from a very early age to be sneaky (and to lie).
Fast forward 20 years and I have my own children. The thought of them being somewhere that I didn’t know where they were, and doing the same sort of things that I did at there age…made me have nightmares, so to speak.
So under my parents’ regime, I was outwardly obedient and inwardly rebellious. I came home drunk once–a cast party for the spring musical, I tried every single drink that came around and my friends had to carry me into the house. I was grounded for 6 weeks and missed the Junior-Senior Prom because it was during that time. A little bit after my sentence was over, I mentioned not being able to go and my mother looked all shocked and told me that I could have gone to that! No, I couldn’t because you didn’t tell me that PRIOR to the dance.
I think you get the idea. I usually sum it up as “I never had a childhood”. I lied to do the things I wanted to, especially during those rebellious teen years. I freaked out other adults when at the ages of 7 or 8, I would sit in the room with the adults and occasionally added something to the conversation–pertinent and not the sort of thing you’d expect from a child. Things didn’t improve when my brother was born–7.5 years between us and I became his 3rd parent. Poor guy.
At 18, I joined the Air Force and left home. The first 6 months of freedom were spent on the stupidity that comes with freedom from the jailers. I drank, I had sex, I got pregnant. That “sobered” me up pretty fast. (Side note: I told my parents about being pregnant; I’m pretty sure they think that I lost my virginity to my child’s father. Sorry, folks. Did that 2 years prior with my boyfriend.)
I gave my child up for adoption and went on with my AF work. I married a co-worker and when my term of enlistment was up, got out of the AF so that we could start our family. My son was born in ’86, my daughter in ’88. We moved as the AF sent him and then at 11 years’ of service, he chose to get out of the military and return to civilian life. We ended up living in the same city as the rest of his family…but our marriage is best left for another time. Let’s just say it ended long before I gave up and divorced him.
My mother had the unmitigated gall to tell me that perhaps (he) would accept God’s love into his heart and “take me back”. I told her in no uncertain terms that I was never going back, that he hadn’t pushed me out, I had left him. (And when I did leave, I lost the family (of in-laws) that I had belonged to for almost 18 years.)
Leaving home and having my own life did not stop my mother from trying to tell me what to do. It took her about 25 years before she realized that my brother and I would listen to her telling us what we needed to do and we’d just go “uh huh” and then do what we wanted. She was not happy about that. And the biggest reason for that unhappiness is that, as I have come to realize, she is a narcissist. One of the main characteristics is strongly identifying (yourself) by the job or title you hold. In other words, you are your job. My mother wants to be a mother, NEEDS to be a mother, in order to have any sense of identity.
I haven’t spoken to my brother in almost 6 years–not because we are fighting, but because our lives are so different, there is no common meeting ground. All of my grandparents are dead, my favorite uncle, too. The only living relatives (all cousins) I have beyond immediate family are completely unknown to me, scattered who knows where–and there’s very few of them. I am, in a very real sense, an orphan.
However. For a long time, I had a group of friends that were closer to me than my own DNA-related family. Then circumstances changed and we all moved on. I met and married my Beloved, and have become part of his family. In fact, my mother-in-love told me that she did not think of me as a “daughter-in-law”, but as a DAUGHTER. His parents have been more involved in our lives than mine ever were. And I don’t mean the bad kind of involvement–I mean emotionally AND financially supportive. For various reasons, he and I chose to move across the country from them–and while they miss us, they absolutely agree that we had to do it. We talk to them almost every day. I talk to my parents maybe once a month.
They say that “home is where, if you go there, they (family) *have* to take you in”. WTF is that? A mandatory obligation to take in someone just because they happen to share DNA? Let’s put this in really simple terms: you do not have to accept anyone or anyone’s behavior “just because” you are related. If your DNA family treats you in a way that you would not tolerate from a stranger, you do not have to tolerate it from them–even if it means cutting of contact with these (poisonous, negative, judgmental) relatives.
If your DNA family is not supportive of you and your goals; if they do not give you respect; if they denigrate you or in any way make you feel bad about yourself; if they treat you as a child even after childhood; if they don’t like your chosen friends or mates and say so to you; if they don’t accept your choices; why on the gods’ green Earth would you bother to spend time or the effort of any contact with them?
Those who you spend the most time with–happy or sad time? THAT IS your family, regardless of genetic codes. The people you rely on, the ones you can trust, those who support you being you…are family. And the best part about a chosen family, instead of an accidental one is that you can have endless amounts of “relatives”–no limitations on how big (or how small) this healthier family is!