Ever since I can remember, I’ve had a strong family identity. I would do anything for my family, move across the country, drop everything I’m doing, and give them the shirt off my back. It sounds nice, except no one else in my immediate family shares this identity. Looking back, I wonder how I developed this strong family identity. When I was a kid, I asked my older sibling for a sweater that no longer fit them:
“No.” they said.
“But you can’t wear it. It literally does not fit you anymore.” I said.
“I know,” they said, “I just just don’t want you to have it.”
This is a good example of my family’s mentality. Don’t share, look out for yourself. Everyone will take what they can. This example was also repeated by my mother when I moved out for the first time and she wouldn’t let me take my bed. It’s now broken under a hundred pounds of fabric that she’ll use “someday”.
I moved to a neighboring state in my early 20’s, driving three hours round trip to see my parents once a month. They returned those visits twice in the four years I lived there. This theme continued for years, and I finally stopped asking if they’d visit. My parents and sibling don’t write, call, email, facebook or text me except on rare occasions. I once asked my mother how she would know if I was ok, and she said “One of your friends would contact us if something happened to you.” I recently told them (via email) that my partner and I are trying to get pregnant. My mother’s response was “What’s ‘IUI’?” and no one else replied. This non-reaction sent me over an emotional cliff that I didn’t even see coming. As a comparison: my partner’s parents showed excitement, wished us luck, and hope for more grandkids.
I’ve always managed to push down any disappointing family of origin behavior by reminding myself that as a child, you don’t pick your family and I know they love me (I do know this). But something is happening to me as I am, for the first time in my life, feeling like I am part of my own little family. I am finding it hard to accept my family of origin’s ambivalence about my existence. Do I want my kids to see that this is how families treat each other? I find myself wanting more from my family of origin. They don’t seem to care about my life, or want to get to know me as an adult. I’m lucky to have extended family members that fill that gap, and we make the effort to stay close (though I could do a better job there). But it doesn’t replace my parents; the very people who loved and breathed me into existence. As my friend recently said: “It is just difficult to understand how a parent’s profound love for their child doesn’t translate into action very often.”
So what now? It’s not as if I’ve been cut out of my family of origin. There’s no situation or event that I can point to, memorialize, or mourn. I can’t change them; I can only let myself grieve and try to heal in some way. I can be grateful and love my own family a little bit more. I can keep working to make our family strong and healthy and know that I’ll always be interested in who they are and where their lives may take them.