Family is still a hard concept for me to grasp because one is expected to like and love these people who one may not have anything in common with and who one may even despise wholeheartedly. However, without some family you are alone in the world- this in itself is sad but a fact. It has taken me many years to establish the role of my family in my mind. I had a difficult childhood with my mother having countless affairs and marriages and my father being broken down into a shell of man, turning to alcohol abuse, and eventually marrying the tarantula of all women, who gave me some terse advice consistent with her attitude: “Your father has a new family now.”
To this day I have minimal contact with my immediate family and have substituted my husband’s family and my extended family and friends in various roles. For fatherly love I look to my father-in-law who is the equivalent of a big cuddly bear and who eases the needy side of me. For womanly advice I turn to my friends and my husband’s older women friends. For career advice I turn again to my in-laws whom offer me endless support and appreciation. I was very lucky that I married into a family with so much love for their son that it swept me right up along with it. I also had a great step-father for some period of my childhood and I thankfully, still maintain a strong relationship with him.
Due to the instability and unrest in my childhood my only sister and I were separated when she reached high school and she went to live with my father. Looking back now I realise what a mistake my parent’s made doing this – not only did my sister and I lose the opportunity to grow to know each other as siblings but we each lost a pillar of support through the troubled times. To this day I have a very tepid relationship with my older sister and it is a relationship based as if on a see-saw – that at any one moment could tipple over. Our relationship is so strained that when she asked me to be a bride’s maid at her wedding I had to refuse because I was not sure I would be able to deal with her over the wedding period let alone be dealing with and in the same room as my mother.
When my sister left home at 18 for another country (from which she did not return for 7 years) she wrote a long letter to my mother airing all her grievances. My mother never paid heed to the letter but I still think it must have been cathartic for my sister as she seems to have since forgiven my mother and they have established a relationship in the last few years. I still hold on to my anger at my mother and when at times I think I could begin to forgive her, I will either remember something she did to me, which will send my anger spiralling out of control or she will again live up to her wicked persona and do something new to cause me pain and grief. It is hard to deal with someone who has no concept of the effect they have on other people and are simultaneously compulsive manipulators and liars. The turbulent nature of my relationship with her has finally resulted in my husband telling her to leave me alone in no uncertain terms.
I pity my father – that about sums up my relationship with him. He was also invited to my sister’s wedding but she vehemently refused to have him walk her down the aisle which then caused major controversy between her and my gran and endless glee for my mother who relished being able to show my father up when she walked my sister down the aisle herself. I tried to make him feel better at the wedding by dancing with him when I saw how his shoulders were slumped over in earned defeat. Guilt of my own made me send him countless emails detailing news about my life, writing well wishes on his facebook page and sending him a card at Christmas with photos of me and my life; trying to ignite something from him. However, my efforts seemed to fall into a limitless pit as I did not hear a word from him until my birthday recently, when he phoned (alone in the car and very obviously away from my step-mother) and refused to answer me when I asked him why I had not heard from him in over 9 months. It is hard to reach a resolution when someone refuses to answer you and the strained conversation ended as it always does – hopeless.
From this “loss” of two parents I began to feel that I was the failure in the relationship because it seemed as if I was too unworthy for even my parents to love, and aren’t parents meant to love their children unconditionally? I cannot begin to thank my husband enough for repairing my tattered confidence and making me feel so loved by him and his family that I have finally found contentment. You do need family around you to get you through the hard times but I have learnt that family does not necessarily mean by blood. I am living proof that blood means nothing. Since leaving school I have made a few rock solid friendships, the kinds of friends who you can phone at 3am in the morning and ask them to come fetch you. I have also nurtured my relationships with my cousins and aunts and uncles so that I do not feel completely exiled and excluded from my family. I have found this formula to be a satisfying replacement for immediate family – not ideal but well suited to my circumstances.
The advice I would give to anyone with similar issues to the ones I had growing up is: 1) Acceptance – the sooner you realise and accept that your parents will never change, the sooner you will feel free. 2) Establish a few, strong connections around you – whether these be friends or family. You need these because one day you will fall and you will need someone else to help lift you back up again. 3) Don’t become bitter – this one I am still working on daily but I know that it can have the most severe, negative consequences if not dealt with. If not nipped in the bud, it becomes a perpetual cycle of unhappiness and past mistakes being repeated in succession, generation upon generation.