Just Google “Family Quotes” and you’ll be inundated with countless inspirational, lovely, encouraging quotes telling you that family is “Everything”, “most important”, “the greatest blessing”, etc. But the hard reality is this isn’t always the case. For so, so many people, their biological family is a source of turmoil, conflict, pain, abuse, or a variety of different negative emotions. Or, maybe they don’t have a true “family” at all.
My point is that “Family” is going to look different for each of us. But whether they are the family we’re born into, the family we’re adopted by, or the family we make, each one is guaranteed to be complicated. As with any relationship, we each come to the table with our own baggage and expectations of how everyone around us is supposed to act, walk, talk, dress, parent, love, express themselves, blah blah blah. What I’ve found when it comes to families is this notion that family comes first and that we must be loyal to our family above all else. That we must often put aside our differences, emotions, or family history and remain loyal to those we call “family” no matter what.
Well, I’m calling b.s.
I don’t say this to hurt anyone. Nor do I say this lightly…. but I stand by it. I believe our “family” is the one we make. Sometimes we’re lucky enough to include our biological family in our day-to-day “family” and those we want to spend our lives with, but sometimes we’re not.
Growing up, we’re taught to “treat everyone the way you want to be treated”, to “be yourself”, and many other good-feeling mantras to guide us through life. At least to me, my family seemed like this safe place where everyone loved, supported, and showed up for each other no matter what. No matter how bad they messed up or how bad they might treat you, we always come back because family is #1.
But as we grow older, things begin to shift. We stop being the people our parents and family raised and start being our own unique people. We change, adjust, and start building and molding families of our own. The rose-colored glasses come off and we often start seeing faults and other not-so-great qualities of our family. Things like a poor money mindset, political views, religion, divorce, priority of education, child abuse and neglect, drug use, or just the general broadening of our world views can often open our eyes to the things we didn’t realize as children. We start seeing unhealthy or downright toxic behaviors that we as adults get to choose whether or not to keep in our lives.
For me personally, I’ve always felt like an outsider within my family. I wasn’t very athletic (even though I tried for years to try to be), was one of the only female grandchildren on both sides, wasn’t super country, was the first grandchild to go to college on both sides, loved theater and all things artsy… I just didn’t feel like there was a place for ME in my big ‘ole family. Don’t get me wrong, I always had a good time when we were together and I love them dearly, but the person they interacted with wasn’t who I truly was.
As I got older and moved off to college, this just became more apparent. All the things I was taught growing up started getting challenged as I experienced different cultures, religions, and political views than those I was surrounded by as a child. And the more I changed, the more I felt I didn’t belong. It’s been 9 years since I left my hometown. In that time I’ve gotten married, graduated from college, started by career, became a mother, began to travel across the country, established a budget, changed political and religious views, grew closer to friends in the LGBTQ community, bought a house, and built a life… Throughout all of it, I developed a very clear view of how I wanted to raise our child and, as a result, started distancing myself from people who don’t fit into that world I want to create for our son.
It’s been hard. I’ve felt anger, frustration, and more guilt than I ever anticipated. But I recently read the book Educated by Tara Westover and this woman changed it all for me. She was able to put into words all the things I was feeling and doing, and made it all click. She said, “You can love someone and still choose to say goodbye to them. You can miss a person every day and still be glad they’re not in your life.” I can LOVE my family (and I do). But I can LOVE myself and my son more… and that’s okay. I can love my biological family and still choose not to have relationships with all of them.
I’ve spoken about this with various friends throughout the years so I know I’m not alone and that there is this group of people out there creating their own “families”. For many of them there is this idea of unconditional love if that person behaves in the way we want them to. Maybe it’s:
I can have a relationship with my parents if I’m religious like they are.
They love me, but we can’t talk politics because we don’t agree.
Well, they divorced so it’s like I have to choose sides.
I chose to get an education so they think I think I’m “too good for them.”
I’m gay and they don’t support me.
But that’s not love. Tara said, “we do love a real disservice when we make it about control and power and changing people.” I don’t have all the answers… I struggle with guilt over not fitting in with my family every single day. I belong and feel a greater sense of connection to the family I’ve made instead of the family I was born into. But I do know is that true, unconditional love isn’t earned. It’s not about control, power, or changing people. It’s not about loving them if they behave the way we want them to. And if we stick by toxic people out of a sense of duty, it’s obligation… not love.
Family isn’t an obligation. It’s the people we choose to let in and keep a relationship with. FAMILY IS COMPLICATED.
"Educated is an account of the struggle for self-invention. It is a tale of fierce family loyalty and of the grief that comes with severing the closest of ties. With the acute insight that distinguishes all great writers, Westover has crafted a universal coming-of-age story that gets to the heart of what an education is and what it offers: the perspective to see one's life through new eyes and the will to change it. "
Check out Educated! --> https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35133922-educated?ac=1&from_search=true