My biological family is very close, loving, and supportive – has been all my life and those of my children. In fact, I have been the greatest hinderance in their participation in our lives. During my first marriage, as situations developed and crises I had never imagined threatened to drown me, I refused to acknowledge the severity of it all to myself, so I certainly couldn’t rely on my family for support. When my marriage ended abruptly on a cold October night I called my mother from a phone booth to come pick me up at a strip mall twenty minutes from her house she did immediately. To this day she is still shaken by the memory of that hour in our lives as she drove into the parking lot exactly as I asked her to and I crouched and ran from the bar I was holed up in and into her car. She couldn’t believe the things I told her about the last ten years of my life – things she and my father and siblings didn’t know because they had been so well hidden. I am a bad actress, so it was truly something I denied to myself.
During those ten years, and in the ensuing years I have had one friend in particular that had experienced similar threats and mental/emotional abuses at the hands of an ex-husband. We consider ourselves ‘Sisters by Heart’ and know that, among common interests, it is our linked journeys through life with a mentally ill spouse that connects us so strongly. This does not in any way reflect on my relationship with my ‘real’ sisters, it is a bonus.
As is not uncommon, mental illness has taken its toll on our children as well; genetics prevail, but environment directs the expression it takes. The delayed ending to my marriage exposed my kids to the abuses, directly and indirectly, that provoked their rejection of their father within months of our divorce. Little did I realize that this simple dismissal, one that seemed logical given the situation, would become a way of life.
In the last several years, as my children have grown to adulthood, they have removed themselves fairly firmly from the close bonds, unconditional support and expectations that tie our biological family, preferring instead to choose a new ‘family’ to focus their attention on. Occasionally they visit; with age and experience I hope they find the balance that allows them to accept their place in our family so we can fully enjoy their presence again, with the expanded gifts of those they choose to partner with. Family shouldn’t have to be an either-or choice.
As unknown others replace various family members in the mind of my son, the most current one to go through this, I find myself angry that the love and devotion from his biological extended family isn’t acceptable. If there is something good they can offer him, something to help him mature, I am happy he has found them, but to call them grandparents and such belittles the bond with my parents and his father’s father and the rest of our extended family.
If we were a family with fractured relationships standard to our daily living, I probably wouldn’t think twice about extending familial titles to new acquaintances, but that isn’t the case. I am struggling to understand.