I’ve heard it takes 30 days to change a behavior. The last month has taught me that the same can be said for relationships. You sometimes need to quit people. Or even have them quit you.
For me, at least for now, that means ties have been cut — and those not cut are forever altered.
No one has the perfect upbringing. Parents make mistakes, as I do with my own children. How you come back from those lapses, however, should count at least as much as, or more than, the imperfections themselves.
Family should mean unconditional love. Always having someone in your corner to bring you up, not tear you down. To magnify your strengths rather than highlight your shortcomings.
Like many children, I grew up in a household where mental illness took an almost daily toll on my family. Having a parent who struggles with depression and anxiety makes that an inevitable cost.
And as someone who suffers from anxiety myself, I can say firsthand that, at times, I wonder if it makes me a lesser mother.
There are days when my own insecurities get the best of me. Then there are also those in which my anxiety makes me a better wife and mother: it makes me feel things more intensely and with heightened senses. For example, I can always tell when something is bothering one of my kids before anyone else.
Just call me Anxiety Woman: able to smell trouble a mile away.
Still, even I can be caught off guard. As I was more than 30 days ago now. There were words that can’t be unspoken. Actions that can’t be undone. On both sides. In the wake of such events are relationships that may never mend.
In any family, the possibility of making someone feel slighted and used exists. Life gets busy. Schedules are stressful. It’s no excuse, but it happens.
After my friend couldn’t answer her husband when he asked what was for dinner, she explained it to me like this: “It’s like, when someone asks you to hold a book, you reach out and say, sure. But when you’re already holding onto so many books, one more seems impossible. You can’t even find the words to decline or accept that next book. You’re mentally and physically overwhelmed.”
The metaphorical books I’m referring to are the chaos that is young family life, working full time, and mentoring students in my free time.
No matter how much self-care I practice (therapy, yoga, and general mindfulness), I’m bound to fall short somewhere, and somehow not be enough for someone.
It really hurts when those “someones” are family.
In spite of both the good and bad experiences I had growing up, I told anyone who would listen that my parents were the best grandparents.
It was true. From every vantage point, no one — especially me — could say we were anything but lucky to have them.
From the time I went back to work when she was three months old, until last fall when she began part-time preschool, they cared for (and helped raise) my daughter five days a week. Ten months a year.
They invested in a baby food processor. They were there for every giggle and every tear, every nap and every playtime.
I’ve always been equal parts elated, somewhat jealous, and even a little scared by the bond they shared with my daughter.
It was a dynamic I’d never had with either of them. Like most kids, I attended daycare and time was scarce between work and school.
I’ll never claim our relationship with them was perfect, but like most families, we always found our way through dark times and disagreements.
I never thought we’d reach a day or an occasion from which we couldn’t recover.
Until that day came.
At first, the complete 180 degree spin our lives took (at least to me) felt like being in an episode of the Twilight Zone. The desire to reach out was intense. I was used to a few phone calls a day. Then, silence.
Just shy of two months now since the explosive falling out, and I find myself looking at boxes in my garage.
Boxes dropped off at my house that contain every framed picture of me and my family, childhood and wedding photos. Milestones. Memories. Gifts, returned. Even framed finger paintings from my little girl.
Every toy and stuffed animal my daughter kept at their house. For her, my heart breaks.
In talking to friends, I’ve learned that it’s not uncommon to have couples who only see one side of their respective families.
Hell, I grew up only knowing my mother’s side, as my father cut ties with his own when I was nine years old.
Maybe it’s because opposites attract. Two people fall in love, different as they may be, but it doesn’t mean their families fall in love along with them.
I wish everyone well. And maybe someday waters will part and make way for a reconciliation. Until then, I’ll keep reminding myself that you can love people without having them in your life. You can be grateful for memories and accept the new reality. The sun keeps rising every day, and moving on is the only choice we have.