Wednesday, April 16, 2008

what is family, anyway?

i've recently come to the conclusion that the family i was born into - in particular, the parents i was born to and the brother i grew up with - does not constitute a "family."

my brother, for obvious reasons. ("family" doesn't do that to family.)

my parents, for somewhat more covert reasons.
i share their genes, yes.
i appreciate that they fed me and clothed me and kept a roof over my head.
i appreciate, also, that they took out loans for about half of what was left to pay for my B.A. after grants and scholarships.
i understand that they love me in the way they know how to love. and i totally get that they truly believe that they know how to love in a loving way.

but they've never protected me.
i gave up on my mom being a mother a long time ago. i was ok with that, with seeking out maternal figures in increasingly healthy ways. there's still a small (and shrinking) part of me that still holds out hope for her, hopes that she'll change of her own volition, but i know i'd never accept her attempts at mothering me anymore. it's well past that.
i've found mothers outside of, beyond, better than her.

i didn't give up on my dad until this past monday. when i finally shattered the illusion of my dad as the Good Parent, the one who actually unconditionally loved and supported me, who actually knew how to parent in a truly loving way.
i thought he could do these things.
i know now that i was wrong. quite wrong.

so yes, i am, in some ways, now an orphan. i am parentless. at 22, i shouldn't need parents anymore, but when you've never really had them, you still long for it. maybe i'll always long for it. even parenting myself, or doing what i can do to parent myself...i still miss it.

and it still fucking hurts. i'm still grieving that loss, even though i lost something i never had in the first place. i still grieve.
maybe i always will.

where i want to go with this:
family does not mean blood. family does not mean genetic ties.

maybe this is totally radical, but i think maybe it would do us good to completely sever those two aspects. make "family" mean something else entirely, make "family" mean all of the things it already means/is supposed to mean, but not have it dependent on or default to the genetic link.

i know i haven't thought this through, and there'd be all kinds of complications, and it's totally not realistic.

but it's appealing, to think up a cultural meaning behind family that would support - not attack, not challenge, not simply tolerate - a cutting of ties with abusive biological families. a complete cutting of ties.

as things stand now, i see absolutely nothing wrong with a person, in an attempt to (finally) take care of herself and not neglect her own needs, cutting off the ties that hurt her. that have traumatized/still traumatize her.

i'm so fucking sick of hearing people talk about how it's selfish to do so, to take care of yourself when your "family" needs you (i.e. needs to be able to continue to abuse you). i'm fucking sick of hearing people talk about "rash decisions" of cutting out your biological family. i'm fucking sick of hearing people speak of that decision as if it were the most radical thing you could do.
(i'm sick of hearing the people i thought supported me buying into this bullshit about family being primarily biological and using that line to judge me.)

here's my dream: a world where making this decision did not ostracize you, did not make you vulnerable to attacks based on "selfishness." a world where this decision was fully supported by everyone around you, where your chosen family - the people who actually love and support you, unconditionally - holds a lot more prevalent position in your life than the people who birthed/raised you.

i dream about a world where it is understood that the definition of family is dependent not on biological connections, but on spiritual/heart-connections. on the giving and receiving of unconditional, no-strings-attached love and compassion and support.

that's family.
the people who share my genes and witnessed (or denied/ignored/neglected) my growing up? they absolutely do not count under that category.

somewhat related, and really important reading:
Concerning Forgiveness: The Liberating Experience of Painful Truth, by Alice Miller.

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