If we’re not feeling it, if it continually eats at us, if we’re really done, it’s okay to move on from our family.
We don’t have to remain latched to every kid, sibling or cousin across three generations just because we got married or share blood and a last name. It’s okay to gently, swiftly say goodbye. We might even be doing them a favor.
It’s a fallacy, an ancient mythic lie that our birth and constructed families are permanent fixtures designed to control us until our last breath. These things are nothing more than temporary constructs from which we derive temporary meaning for our lives. If the meanings are changed, dissolved or contravened, whether through our evolution or a shift in another person’s perspective, we are being called to rethink, possibly design our commitments. While this is not a call to be reckless, it’s important to understand our options.
Birthdays, New Years and holidays usher in profound times of reevaluation, self-reflection and tribe-assessment. If we don’t “head home” for the holidays, we remember what our holidays were like growing up and what we hope them to be in the future. Playing these movies in our minds helps us realize what we don’t want in our lives and what we do want.
If we’re paying attention during family visits, the moment we pull into our sibling’s or mother’s (or even our own) driveway, we begin to feel the stress around the family behaviors we no longer tolerate. We start to feel our former-self bubble up, chockfull of our old, enflamed reactions. For many people, holidays are a time of healing and renewal. For the rest of us, year-end and family gatherings are a bit of a head-f*ck.
The true definition of a birth family is a small group of people forced to deal with each other while fighting for limited resources. These birth, childhood and adoptive groups are vital to our growth and self-discovery, but many of them have an expiration date. While these families often serve a huge purpose in our early years, they can become void of intrinsic value as we age.
This is not to say that all families are bad or that we should strive to let them go. On the contrary, if you’ve been born into a tolerable group of fair-minded people who respect you, then cling to these people with all your heart! If you’re a Mormon, you might be so enthused with your family that you’ve sealed yourself to them for eternity. Whatever moistens your loins.
For many of us though, our families, and sometimes our marriages, are odd assemblies of twisted personalities that were never able to form an all-inclusive communication and social system. There may have been abuse or neglect in the original contract or within your childhood home. It might be that your voice has never been truly welcome in your family. You may be a successful person out in the world, but when you return home every day or every year, you’re thrust into the corner with a mouth guard and dunce cap.
You may need to dig deep and grieve some of the more toxic imagery rolling around in your mind and heart. You might be so overwhelmed with emotion stemming from childhood that it’s become impossible to look at or even speak with other members of your family. Every one of us has challenging family fascia clinging to our spirit, so remember to be gentle with yourself, even selfish.
It might be that we hate our families and refuse to forgive them. We may have forgiven them, but we refuse to forget. We might love them,but don’t want to be near them any longer.
It might be that you’re still playing the role of the victim and being around your family is like pouring salt in your wounds. Each situation is unique and cannot be judged from the perspectives of traditional or religious family values. Human beings are far more complex than that and there are many paths that lead to liberation.
If you find yourself nodding your head as you read all this, accept the fact that your situation is your own and you do not need anybody’s approval to make changes in your life. Regardless of how many family relationships you decide to exit, understand that those who truly wish to be in your company will seek you out with a full heart, respect, kindness and understanding.
Pushing hard to break from family might not bring about the most lasting change. Before applying the pruning sheers to your family tree, do your best to come to terms with your mistakes, then forgive them. Come to terms with other people’s mistakes and forgive them. Be accepting of the way things are. Find peace before you make major breaks.
When making big decisions around relationships and family bondage, shut out the old family voices, quiet the sibling voices, silence the traditions voice—and listen to your voice. It’s the only one that counts.
Our paths are mutually exclusive. Yours might require extended periods of solitude. It might be that you simply need a break from family or tradition. Heck, you might just want to skip one holiday meal in favor of drinking your face off at the local bar. You get to choose because it’s your life. Don’t get tripped up by guilt and shame. Those things barely exist.
He turned out okay, didn’t he?
Whatever changes are on your horizon, seek the ones that bring you peace. Seek traditions, new or old, that bring you joy.
Our contract is not with our family or other individuals, it’s with the universe. Infuse that contact with as much joy as possible. With or without family, it’s your life. Enjoy it!
Author: Paul Wagner
Editor: Sara Kärpänen