Reflections on Family and Relationships

Water Reflections

The importance put on family is something I have spent a lot of time thinking on, not just lately, but for a very long time.  With some of the issues with OC and also with regards to my own parents, siblings and in-laws, it has been something that has kind of always sat in the back of my mind.  Why do we put different standards around family relationships versus all other relationships?  There are times where you are forced to put up with or tolerate behavior and treatment from family members that would never, ever be considered even remotely okay with any other person in your life.  Why does blood grant that privilege?  Recently, I’ve been forced to face this question head on and come up with some real answers for myself and my immediate family.

I am the lone girl of three kids and the middle child as the cherry on top.  Growing up, I was never into “sports” (and I write it that way because my family has a pretty narrow view of what they consider a sport) and I wasn’t a perfect A student.  I wasn’t one to get really bad grades, but I wasn’t uber smart.  I was the creative one, the dreamer that lived in my head and loved to play pretend.  For a very long time it was just my older brother and me since my younger brother is so much younger than we are and everything in my family revolved around Older Brother’s sports.  He played all kinds, baseball, basketball and soccer were competitive and then you had all the just for fun things.  I was allowed to do gymnastics for a while when I was younger, but when I wasn’t good enough to go on to compete, they pulled me and I didn’t do anything else for a long time.  I wanted to do dance, but THAT isn’t a “sport” so it didn’t happen.  Around middle school, I tried basketball (which is funny considering how short I am and how utterly terrible I was) and it was pretty much the only time I ever had my family’s attention for more than a few seconds.  Even that came with all kinds of “advice” on how I could play better.  Needless to say, I was always the oddball in my family.

All of this reflection and digging through my past history was brought on by a recent explosion in my family that is forcing me to take a hard look at my family and my relationship with them.  And sadly, I mean all of them.  Parents and brothers and even nieces and nephews.  The last year or so had already had me in a place where I knew things were going to need to change, I just didn’t know what or how.  It took this event to force me to really look honestly at it all and I haven’t liked what I’ve seen.  In them.  In me and what I’ve been willing to live with, even what I’ve let them do to my kids.

Talking to Hubby, I realized that my family, my mother especially, has never been there for me emotionally.  Sure, if I have needed something, they have been there to help out, but it has never come freely, just because they are family.  It has always come with strings, criticism, disdain and judgement for wanting or needing that help.  Not one thing.  I have spent my life having my feelings hurt because I felt like I was often the last to know, to be invited for family events or included.  In the past, I have just assumed that I was being petty or selfish, dealt with those feelings and then moved on.  I learned a long time ago that there were just things that I couldn’t talk to my mother about because I knew it would get some sort of comment that would hurt and it wasn’t worth it so I just avoided them.  Since becoming a parent, I have had to sit through countless lectures on how I should be doing things different and, by all that is sacred, don’t EVER play favorites (which became exponentially worse after I married and had kids with Hubby, OC is from my first marriage).  Funny coming from a woman who is the queen of that.  How sad is it that I got to the point that a simple conversation about my kids isn’t something I ever felt comfortable talking to my own mother about for fear of getting yet another lecture about how bad of a parent I am?

It has always been this way, but the last year for some reason got really awful.  Family events became something I dreaded because it felt as if Hubby and I and the two youngest didn’t exist.  OC is spoiled and coddled because he has issues with depression and needs that extra attention (mother’s words, not mine).  At so many of those events our presence was expected and at the time they set because that is what worked for everyone else, rarely ever being asked if it worked for us.  There are issues with my brothers’ work schedules, so I just accepted that because we usually are flexible and available.  One event got postponed because of horrible weather (after I struggled like hell to get everyone together on the same day) and when I tried again, I could not work it to where everyone could be there except Hubby, the kids and I and my mother’s response was “What’s the point? Nobody can make it.”  Apparently I am Nobody, since I was the only one willing and able to be there.  Needless to say, we didn’t get together because just us wasn’t what she wanted.  That wasn’t the only time I heard that comment from her mouth.  Any events for my two younger kids apparently are a huge burden to my parents’ incredibly busy lives to make it to, which they did a few, but I had to hear about how difficult it was for them to be there and it was obvious they didn’t want to be there.  And yet, we are expected to show for everything, no matter what we may have going on, unless of course, my brothers can’t make it.

We were put in a very ugly position of having to choose between a major event for Baby Girl and one for my nephew.  Hubby and I really struggled trying to decide what was best for everyone and it put a hell of a strain on us.  In the end, the decision was taken out of our hands as a server disaster at Hubby’s work forced him to work the weekend of the events.  Since the nephew event was out of town, there was absolutely no way we could make it.  BG’s event was just a few hours and local so he was able to take a break to attend.  My family reacted terribly and apparently thought we lied.  I’ve never made a habit of being a lier, so I don’t know why they would make that assumption.  Especially considering we were prepared to totally disappoint BG by going to nephew’s event (it was a once in a lifetime thing, so yes we were).  By the way, the event was scheduled well after we had the date for BG’s event and nephew’s event date could have been at any other time but was decided to have it then because of things he wanted to do after.  There were a couple of other deciding factors, which at the time were understandable, but changed long before any real plans or arrangements had been made so there was plenty of time to change the date to make it work for everyone, but they refused.

I think that event is one (and I think there are probably several) where things in my family finally started to break.  Every time we got together after that, my mother treated me with her signature disdain and cold shoulder and looks that made me feel as if I’d run over her dog.  What little interactions my family had with Hubby and the two younger ones evaporated entirely.  The final break came after no one bothered to show up for what had become a family tradition on the 4th (apparently everyone else had better things to do, though my younger brother did have to work, so he got a pass) and then after suggesting plans for my mother’s birthday (the first event that got a “why bother” comment the previous year) I was told that we didn’t last year so there was no reason to this year so I dropped it.  I wasn’t going to force anyone to do what they didn’t want.

When my nephew came back in town (yes, out of town on her birthday and had her and my dad over taking care of things while he and his wife were gone) he tried to get us together for said birthday, which we were frustrated but fine with and willing to go.  Then the day before he decided he wanted everyone to get together for another family thing, just because.  Hubby was in the middle of yard work, pushing to get it all done since he wouldn’t be able to the next day…  because we were getting together!!…  and nephew called him 3 or 4 times, which Hubby is mowing and can’t hear or feel his phone so didn’t answer.  Nephew then called me and immediately copped an attitude I didn’t understand at all.  I told him I’d check with Hubby and let him know, but we probably wouldn’t be able to.  It would be about half an hour and I’d call him.  Hubby comes in later asks why nephew called him 6 times and is calling again.  ???  I’m so confused.  I call nephew, tell him for sure we can’t make it that day but we’d see them all the next.  He mumbles something and hangs up.  5 minutes later I get a text calling me lame.  I’m floored.  I have no clue where this is coming from or why, but whatever.  A little while later, Middle Child comes down and wants to know why nephew is calling him.

At this point I’m pretty pissed.  He went behind my back to talk to my 14 year old kid?  Seriously?  I called him and asked what the hell was up with him, why he is calling MC behind my back.  Said he was trying to call OC (MC got OC’s old phone, apparently OC never let nephew know) since he was 18 and should have the right to decide if he wants to come over.  I told nephew he has no right, no matter how old OC is, to go behind my back and nephew starts going on and on about trying to keep this family together and about people talking behind other people’s backs and keeping secrets and all kinds of seriously crazy sounding stuff because I have not one clue what he is talking about as I hardly ever talk to anyone in my family unless they want something.  Then, he said that no one bothered to do anything for my mother’s birthday and I’ve been pushed to the edge of my tolerance.  I told him that I was told not to so I didn’t.  He gets mad, voice getting louder (mine has already been there in my frustration and anger) and says that there is a reason for that and I just lost it completely.  Something broke inside me at that point and I did something I almost never, ever do.  I went banshee on him and pretty much told him to fuck off.  I’d had enough and I was done.  He comes home from being gone, but it is my fault there wasn’t something planned for my mother.  I have two brothers and sisters-in-law, an adult nephew and a father, yet I’m the one responsible.  That and we are expected to drop everything and show up for a command performance because someone in my family says so.  I ended up hanging up on him.

In the process of nephew planning the dinner for my mother, he’d sent out a group text to everyone trying to coordinate it.  After attempting to call me back several times and me turning my phone off, he also called Hubby (a total of 12 time in all that day) and Hubby finally sending him a personal text telling him that we weren’t ready to talk and nephew’s response was that he wanted to talk and that he wasn’t mad (oh, how big of him) and also trying MC another time or two, Hubby and I decided that things were too volatile for us to attend the planned dinner the next day so responded to the group text that we wouldn’t be going.  Nephew gets on a rant about family and doing anything for family and willing to forgive family and then ends it with an ultimatum that if we didn’t show, we were no longer family.  This was a group text.  Both of my brothers were on it.  Both of my parents.  Not a single person attempted to contact me about what was going on.  I know that nephew wouldn’t have even started to spew the crap he was spewing if he hadn’t been listing to my mother vent her poisonous judgement and criticism, because up until this event Hubby and I had always treated my nephew as if he were one of our own children.  Taking him on family vacations with him, taking him back to school shopping when my brother couldn’t afford it, basically including him in just about everything.  To have him turn into what amounts to a schoolyard bully and raving lunatic, to have not one member of my family attempt to contact me after the ultimatum text that everyone got crushed me.

There is so much more involved than what I can put here, but those are the biggest moments tied to this whole mess.  I have felt for a really long time that I was an unwanted burden and obligation to most everyone in my family, that there were two standards we all had to meet.  There was one, an impossible to achieve one for me, and another flexible, can do no wrong one for everyone else.  I have never gotten along well with my older brother as he is truly a selfish jerk and always has been.  My younger brother and I had a pretty good relationship when he was younger, but he grew up and got a life and a wife and we just drifted and haven’t been too close, but always friendly.  No one ever calls me just to talk, except my mother, but again that usually ends up full of criticism and my older brother did for a bit and at random times, again, also ending up much the same as my mother.  One very memorable call from him was when I was in the hospital having just given birth to MC and what should have been a call of congratulations ended up in a lecture from Big Brother on how I shouldn’t play favorites and I shouldn’t let Hubby treat his kids different than OC (who was 3 at the time).  This coming from the guy who dumped his own kid off on my parents to live before he was old enough to attend high school.

I’ve always known that my relationship with my mother was far from perfect, but I refused to ever say or do anything that might sever that relationship.  I always told Hubby, “I need my mom in my life”.  This most recent experience left me asking “Why?”  Why do I need someone in my life that always makes me feel bad, always criticizes me and tells me how wrong I’m doing everything.  The same woman who forced me to sit through a day of baseball tournaments with blood on my white shorts the day I started my period for the first time, gave me a jacket to tie around my waist, told me to wad up some toilet paper to put in my underwear, sit for hours at the games and then proceeded to make me go out for pizza with the entire team in the same condition, hours after I’d started.  I was 12.  The same woman who, when I desperately needed my mother, when I told her I had been raped, the first thing out of her mouth wasn’t “Are you okay?” or even “What do you need?” it was “Did you lead him on?” and then “You could be pregnant you know.”  I was 14.  The same woman who, when she found evidence that I’d been sexually active screamed at me that I was a slut, a lier and a sneak and spewed horrible things at me then smacked me in the face when I disagreed with her.  I was 16.  The same woman who, when I was 21 and I told her I’d passed out after getting a blood test for potential STDs, railed on me about how stupid I was to have put myself in the position to need one in the first place, apparently having forgotten the rape conversation and never took the steps on her own to ensure that I was safe.  The same woman who was always so good at implying that I would never be good at the things I loved, dancing and art, even told me when I wanted to get an art degree that I’d never find a job and that it was a worthless degree.  The same woman that told me when I got divorced the first time how horrible my first husband was (and he was, but I really kind of just needed a hug).  The same woman that when I called to tell her that OC was in the hospital because he had a plan to commit suicide, she said, not “What do you need” or “How can I help” but “I told you he was depressed”.  Again, why is it that I think I NEED that in my life?  Not once when I have needed my mother has she just been there.  My father sits on the sidelines and never says anything one way or the other unless he really disapproves and then it is some snide and cutting remark made to sound funny.

I have spent years making excuses or questioning my own behavior and reactions to events, thinking I must be seeing things from some sort of biased perspective.  And maybe I am a bit.  I’m sure I’ve played my own parts in all of this.  I’m not perfect and I tend to hold things in so things that probably should have been said and addressed a long time ago never have been.  At the same time, I’ve always believed that my feelings were either irrational, an overreaction or invalid and unimportant in the grand scheme of things.  Essentially giving the same weight to everyone else’s thoughts and feelings that I have their time and importance, which has always been way more than my own, because that is the way I was taught to think.

What is it about being blood family that makes people think that it is okay to tolerate the hurtful behavior and words?  When I got divorced the first time, I decided that I would much rather be alone than to be treated like garbage.  When many of my online homes became toxic with the kinds of people that hung out there, I left.  When dealing with non-family in my personal life became like refereeing kindergartners, I walked away.  Why would I stay in a relationship with family that treated me even worse?  By staying, I was only giving them the power and permission to do so.  The whole excuse of “But, they are family” should not have that much weight.  Not only has my choice to keep this family in my life harmed me, but I could see it starting to harm my children.   The two youngest might as well not exist to my family for all the attention they are paid.  MC had a huge, Huge, HUGE thing that he earned his way into and my family treated it like it was nothing.  No, good job.  No questions about it all, not one thing.  I even had to listen to my older brother put it down.  BG is in dance and recitals or Christmas programs get treated like I’m yanking out fingernails.  I don’t want them to grow up feeling unimportant or like an obligation.  Honestly, family should never feel like an obligation.  Sure, all relationships take work.  They absolutely should be a two way street of give and take with no one side being the one to always give or always take.  It should balance out over time.  The theory that people do good, kind things without the expectation of something in return is flawed.  If you are always the one giving and you don’t even get thanks, or appreciation or kindness in return, you are eventually going to have nothing left to give because it is the return care that helps to feed our souls.  If your soul becomes starved, the only thing you are going to have the energy for is taking care of yourself, if even that.

It has been nearly a week and not a single person in my family has made the effort to contact me.  Granted, I haven’t made any effort either, but I don’t think I have any effort left to give.  I’m going to have to make a decision, but at this point, I don’t see how I will ever be able to be a part of all of that ever again.  I don’t expect anything to change and making the effort with the hope that it will is no different than staying in a bad marriage hoping the other person will finally become the person you wanted to marry rather than the person they are.  I am going to be the me that I am, not the one expected of me.  I’m saddened that I may be taking grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins from my kids, but what am I giving them by keeping them in our lives?  Hubby is beyond the “had enough” stage.  The moment he had to hold me through my emotional shattering, he was done.  He has stood by and watched me cry over this one too many times.  I’m tired of starving.  It is time to feed the healthy relationships in my life rather than continue to pour my soul in to ugly toxicity that only hurts all of us.  I thought at one point in my life that losing my family would be something I’d never recover from, and on some levels that may be the case, but right now?  I feel really confused because there is just so much relief.

 

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Author: TJ Fox

Slightly sane artist, book addict, wife and mother of 3 who is forever rethinking her place in this world.

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