HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Esperanza” is a pseudonym. Also by Esperanza on HA: “Cookie Cutters and the Power of Secrecy.”
The holidays are usually a time of great joy, spending extra time together as a family, laughing, sharing precious moments and building memories. The holidays seem perfectly designed for family togetherness, and yet, we, your adult children sit here in the midst of the most dreaded season of them all. Because at every turn we are told that holidays mean having this perfect Christmas card worthy family scene, and that is so very far from our reality.
We, your children, your brothers, your sisters, face a Thanksgiving where we’re not sure how to be thankful because of the huge amounts of anger and hurt being thrown our way. Your words wound us until we are unsure how we’re even supposed to keep from crying into our turkey and cranberry sauce. We face a Christmas sitting alone at home, because that was the only option that didn’t involve being hurt over and over again by your cutting words and judgments. We can’t afford to go somewhere nice on our own because we have to fend for ourselves in a world we were woefully unprepared for. Trying to pay for our own education while working to the bone to create a decent life for ourselves is no easy task, yet it is one you seem completely content to have handed to us.
Most days we are able to bury the hurt we have experienced at your hand just below the surface, simply so that we can continue surviving.
We have to be the strong ones, because we are on our own.
There’s no time to let your words sink deep enough to break us down. However as the holidays come, it seems that every year it is just too hard to ignore that pain. Perhaps it is because for those of us that are still in our families’ lives, the hurts continue year after year. And for those of us who are gone from your life, the absence and quiet becomes just too loud to shut out today.
So today, and perhaps just for today, let’s talk about how much it hurts to be a broken family.
We are your sons, your daughters, your brothers, your sisters. We are part of that great idea called family. Friends you are born into life with, people you share DNA with, all part of the same group that is supposed to stick together through thick or thin. And yet somehow, somewhere, our perfectly preserved little family fell apart.
Some of us have experienced the complete and utter rejection from our families outright. Too many children have been turned out on the streets by the very people who gave life to them. There is hardly anything worse you could ever do to your own child. Some of us have moved forward with our own hopes and dreams only to hear in the midst of our own joy and freedom that the doors have been slammed shut behind us. Yet others have met the one that fills their soul, and you, our family; say “we want you to be happy, but only by the happiness we define for you.” Sadly, our dreams, goals, lovers, and futures do not line up with the harsh lines you have drawn in the sand.
We are told in no uncertain terms that we are not a welcome member of your family any longer.
While resolute rejection is a heartbreaking thing to experience, there are also those of you that call yourselves our family and project this pretty little family togetherness image to those around you, yet when it’s only us around the dinner table the gloves come off. We are expected to act as if everything is perfect and wonderful, yet all the time hearing words that tear us down to our core. You say we are unworthy of your deep love and affection because we don’t share the same view on all issues. We are only to be tolerated and condescended to spend time with.
This kind of “love” is, to put it nicely, a lie.
There’s not much we know to be true from our childhood teachings, but the one main message we heard loud and clear is that God is Love. You may put a pretty spin on it, call it tough love, but when your words are poisonous to the soul, this is not the love of Jesus. When we cry ourselves to sleep because of this deep separation from our former closest confidantes, this, dear family, is not the unconditional, agape love you preached. Whether you like to admit it or not, we may have actually absorbed that lesson better than you did. Perhaps in the midst of the Greek and Hebrew studies you lost sight of the hearts of those you were supposed to be teaching about this simple love. Whatever the reason, we know better. Love is not love when it changes or has qualifiers. This “love” you tell us about as you hurl your dagger words is not love, but rather you trying to comfort your conscience with excuses.
And finally we come to the third kind of broken adult child. Those of us who have had to walk away from you, rather than the other way around. To be fair, all of us have had to do this to some extent to pursue our own dreams and move forward in life, but there are those of us that have had to put the walls all the way up, for our own safety and sanity. When the messages of attack and hurt come wave after wave, it takes its toll. You know that saying “death by a thousand paper cuts?” Well the same could be said about your words, family. There is only so much pain and heartbreak we can endure before we are simply done.
As much as it breaks our heart, it also saves our heart.
In our community, the stories of suicide, depression, self harm etc, are far too common. Sometimes, for our own safety, we have to shut you out, because there are only so many toxic things one can handle until the pain becomes too much.
Please family; take us seriously when we tell you how badly your words hurt. You would not believe how much your preaching, lying, manipulating, guilting, attacking, and judging tear us down. If you are still in our lives, do not take that for granted. It is by our choice, and our choice alone. Heed this warning, because you never know which word will be the thousandth painful word that causes us to walk away forever. If you have shut us out, please think about the relationships you are missing. Grandchildren, cousins, nieces, brothers, nephews, sisters, and daughters.
We are your children.
You raised and cared for us. We trusted you the most. We trusted you first, before anyone else. Please, take a moment this holiday season to think about us, your adult children, and consider changing your attitude toward us. We aren’t asking you to change your convictions. We wouldn’t want you to ask us to change ours (even though you have). We don’t seek to convert you to our “side.” We don’t want to debate, discuss, or disagree. We just want to be a family.
We just want to be purely, unconditionally, forever loved.
There’s so much truth in this. Holidays are a little bittersweet for me now, since I no longer want to be near my family. I still enjoy the time off of work and new traditions and good times with my fiance. But looking ahead to spending time with my family makes me sad and angry, and brings out all sorts of unpleasant memories and old wounds. Sometimes I’m not sure if I should even bother. And then a pesky voice says “you’ll regret it some day if they die and you never had a chance to make up with them,” and I feel like I need to see them. And I am constantly in a state of confusion, never wanting more of a relationship but never wanting to back completely away. I just don’t know. Sometimes I wish they had rejected me fully and told me never to speak to them again. Then, at least, it would be over. Instead, I’m still in this grey zone, trying to decide if I should just walk away completely, or if I should stay where they might still hurt me, but where we can still be a family. I don’t know.
At the very least, in the interest of supporting one another, can we all agree never to react badly to a friend or co-worker who says “no” when asked “are you going to spend time with family this holiday?” On several occasions, I’ve had co-workers try to convince me of the value of family when I replied in a way that made it clear that I definitely did not want to see them. “Why??? Family is a good thing! You only have one! Blood is thicker than water; you need to stick with them…” are all things I’ve heard without the person even knowing my situation. I don’t really want to air my dirty laundry to them, so I usually just fend off with “we’re not on good terms right now” which usually resulted in raised eyebrows and a sort of disbelieving “ooo…kaaayy…?” How hard is it to just accept if someone says that they are not spending time with their family that they have made the right decision for them? Just say “Oh, well what are your plans then?” Or “Cool. Well I’ll be with my aunt…” or ANYTHING except trying to convince us that we need to be with families that, for all you know, might be abusive or unsafe.
Why would you someday regret not spending more time with abusers? Do you miss having the flu after you recover? “Oh, if only I’d spent more time puking while I had the chance!” Does a cancer patient miss their tumor after it’s removed? You may miss a body part that was full of gangrene, or a broken tooth that was extracted, but you do *not* miss the pain or wish to go back to that pain unless something is seriously wrong with your brain! (I realize that an amputated body part may give “phantom pain,” so my analogy isn’t perfect, but just go with it for now, k? 🙂 ) When my parents die, I expect to feel nothing but relief. It was and is their choice to treat me the way they have and do, and if at any time they change the way they treat me and apologize for the way they’ve treated me in the past, then perhaps I will consider spending more time with them. I could continue to spend time with them, knowing that I *will* be hurt again and again and again, or I can separate myself from them and protect myself, my children, and my husband from their poison. I choose the latter.
Shame on your coworkers for criticizing your choices in how you spend your time! Just because it happens to be a holiday doesn’t give them the right to tell you how you should spend that holiday! It is NOT their business, because it is NOT their life!
If your coworkers continue to comment on your life, it may be time for a little creative truth-stretching. “Your family” could mean your *real* family of the heart (aka genuine friends) or your “new family” if you have a SO and/or children. Or if you have pets, they could be “the family” with whom you’ll spend Thanksgiving. Or if it’s just you, no pets, no SO, no kids, no houseplants, & no stuffed animals… then adopt a family on TV (like the parade announcers or the football team or whatever show or movie you’re watching) & spend it with them. 😉 If they later ask how your Thanksgiving was, just say “great!” and move on… if they let you. If they’re so nosy that they want all the deets, then I guess you’re up a creek without a paddle unless you’re really good at story-telling! I know several people who spend their Thanksgivings serving the homeless in soup kitchens, or eating non-traditional foods like sushi. You can make the holiday into whatever you wish it to be, and it can be a day that’s fun & relaxing for you & whatever true family is around you.