There is nothing like the holiday season to bring out the fun in dysfunctional families. Complex family dynamics hit me like a sheet of soggy snow sliding off a roof every year.
My family is a bizarre, blended mishmash of political dichotomies. Take me, on the faaaarrr left, for example. I am about as liberal as they come– a social worker who believes in equal rights for all, and sees a lot of shades of gray. I do have a line I draw in the sand on vaccinations (adamantly for them), eating my own placenta (not gonna’ do it), and bringing children to Burning Man (no way, no how). I also won’t allow my children to watch movies with smoking or swears, but other than that, it’s pretty much all fair game.
On the other side of the spectrum, there is my extended family of way-far-right-wing-born-again relatives. Think Tea Baggers and Billy Graham.
I don’t write about my family often, outside of my children and husband, for several reasons. One, I respect their privacy. Two, they are just not all that relevent to my mommy blog. And three, I struggle to articulate how confused and ooogy they make me feel.
On one hand, I feel bad my children don’t know that side of my family better. I also fear those relatives judge me harshly for not visiting more often, which makes me want to visit more often even less.
On the other hand, sometimes a little distance is best, and sometimes a lot of distance is even better. A few hours every few years is just about all I can handle.
I am friends on Facebook with some of them, and for the most part it is cordial. My cousins and I set aside our religious and political differences to admire pictures of each other’s children and marvel at how fast they are growing.
But every once in a while, things get a bit tense.
For example, last year, after watching the Netflix documentary, Blackfish, I posted about human hubris at keeping gigantic sea mammals in bathtubs, and ranted a bit about animal cruelty in general. I mean, it just seemed like common sense to me, and most of my pals online agreed. One of my relations, however, took offense and posted how wrong I was because “humans are created in God’s image, and animals do not have souls.” She went on to accuse me of having “a radical agenda.” Mmmmmkay. . .
I responded that there were heaps of Hindus who would disagree with that as they are worshipping their cows, and what makes Christianity the only “right” religion anyway? And besides that, just look in the eyes of an orangutan and tell me it doesn’t have a soul?!
After a couple of days of rumination, I eventually let it go and got on with my life.
Then at my uncle’s funeral, paths (and wires) crossed again. Some relatives sat extolling the benefits of formula because it makes babies sleep longer. I bit my tongue to keep from shouting about how babies are supposed to wake frequently at night as it is biologically imperative to their survival, as is human milk. I mean, if you have to feed your child formula because of whatever reason I have no judgement. While I believe whole-heartedly in the benefits of breastmilk, I am happy as long as babies are fed. But if you are feeding them formula to sedate them so you can get a few more minutes of shut-eye, I can cite a whole bunch of stuff about why that is not a great idea.
I casually mentioned that neither of my children slept through the night until they were 18 months old. Jaws dropped around the table. Because, you know, if your children don’t sleep through the night at 8 weeks old it must mean you’re a bad parent.
I explained that I didn’t believe in making them cry it out, and eventually they slept and it’s all good. For the record, they are both great sleepers now. They went on to another topic, one of politics, and made some biting remarks about “those liberals.” Again, I bit my tongue.
When bidding my farewells, the same relative who got up in arms over my Blackfish rant suggested I, “Get some sleep, and get a life.” I”m not sure if she meant it quite so snarkily, but it felt that way.
While I try to follow the Dalai Lama’s advice and “not let the actions of others affect my inner peace,” it does hurt. I want my family to love me, and I want them to know I am a good, hard-working person who tries to be fair and loving in all that I do. I’m a good mom and a faithful wife. I value kindness almost above everything.
I’m liberal, but I’m lovable too, god damnit!
So, it was once again disheartening when my relative posted a passive-aggressive snark on my Facebook. I had posted a link to an article about the top conservative corporations to avoid. Again, this seems like a no-brainer to me. Chick-Fil-A=gay bashers. Cracker Barrell=racist/anti-gay. Walmart=indentured servitude. Hobby Lobby=anti-woman’s rights. Isn’t bashing people and infringing on basic human rights a bad thing in America?
The relative posted, “Thanks for posting this. I am a proud right-winger and will continue to support infant lives and human decency.”
My sensitive and obsessive little brain immediately took this to mean my relative thought I was an indecent excuse of a human.
I interpreted the comment to mean: I will continue to eat my chicken with a side of hatred, and buy products from slave labor in China that keep Americans in poverty because my beliefs are more important and they are the only ones that are right. I will continue to buy from corporations that want to set women’s liberation back hundreds of years, and in case there is any doubt about it, you are no longer welcome at my home.
I didn’t reply. My finger hovered over the “unfriend” button, but did not press it.
I tried to be grateful for the comment, hurtful as it was. I tried to respect, accept, and appreciate where my relative was coming from.
I tried to be thankful that it opened my eyes to the 1% of my Facebook friend population that is not as open-minded as I am, and that maybe I might offend someone with my radical posts about attachment parenting, breastfeeding, and human rights. I live in a fairly liberal part of the country, and was raised by very socially conscious and liberal parents. Sometimes I forget that not everyone thinks like me. So, in some ways, it was a good reminder.
In another way, it was a really terrible reminder of how depressing and regressive much our fine country’s mentality remains when it comes to people of color, women, people living in poverty, and the LGBTQQ population.
It felt uncomfortable and sad. It seemed strange that almost a year to the day since this relative’s last comment, they were making another. In a way, these comments coming right at the holidays served to remind me how different and distant I am from my kin at a time when we are all supposed to be hugging around a tree, getting muzzy on eggnog.
The relative who left the comments is actually someone who is highly educated, and who I used to really like and respect.
Look. I appreciate that there are always two sides of an argument. But this just felt mean-spirited. Like my relative was trying to put me in my place, and my place felt very much outside of the family circle.
Because I have an extensively blended family, as does my husband, it is really hard to cover all the bases evenly with our relatives. My extended, out-of-state family (to which this relative belongs) has only met my children a couple times. I used to spend a lot of time out there when I was younger and single.
On some level I accept this fact, and my own limitation to be spread already so thin. On another level, I worry about what my family thinks of me, and feel a loss and sadness that there are gigantic chunks of my ancestry and herritage I will probably never know.
Maybe, as usual, I am being overly sensitive. Maybe I should be more careful about what I post on social media. I really don’t like offending people. I like family tension even less. While I enjoy the platform for witty banter among like-minded peers, I almost never post something if it is mean-spirited, contraversial, or intended to provoke diversive discourse. And I never leave negative comments. If I have nothing nice to say, I usually don’t say it, even if I feel I am in the right. Or the left. You get it. Whatever.
I wonder if my relative felt that my post was a personal attack on their views and beliefs, as I felt their comment to be an attack on not only me, but on millions of minorities who have struggled for basic rights and safety.
I guess I don’t really mind that my relative disagreed with me, but I did mind the way in which they expressed it. It just felt pointed. And mean. It made me scared to send them a Christmas card with the picture of my happy family in front of our new house, because I was scared it would get ripped and thrown in their conservative trash.
Most families have some version of drama and dysfunction, and these dynamics can seem even more evident during the holidays. Siblings revert to their childhood roles and squabbles. In-laws bicker and try to control things. It might be the festive and colorful lights only serve to make all our old hurts, insecurities, and grudges more blatant during what is ironically called, “the most wonderful time of the year!“.
Isn’t there a way we can all love one another in spite of all our differences and get along in honor of this season of light and hope?
I don’t know the answer.
But I am glad I won’t be travelling in the direction of that relative this holiday season.
Finally, for the record, I am an incredibly decent person who is raising amazingly decent children who will have a delightfully liberal regard for what we consider “human decency.” Just in case there was any question.
Peace on Earth. Happy wishes to all. Momaste. The mom in me bows to the mom in you.
What family stuff will you be experiencing this season?