Many families we see on television usually reside in an idyllic space, where all differences and issues are neatly resolved by the end of the episode, packaged, and tied up in a pretty little bow. Unfortunately, no matter how hard we might try, we can’t be the Cosby family, or the Brady, Tanner, or Dunphy/Tucker/Pritchett families for that matter. And while most of us don’t dream of or want a “perfect” family life, some of us probably wish for a simpler (co)existence with our relatives.
I am an only-child of divorced parents. I have a combined eight brothers and sisters from these second families. I grew up in the home of my mother. My father moved across the country when I was 13 and I saw him once a year.
My husband also shares the “only child of divorced parents” title, is currently rebuilding his relationship with his mother, and has no relationship with his estranged father.
And now our son has six grandparents, two half-aunts, six step-aunts and –uncles, and no cousins.
While there is a lot of love to go around, this non-traditional-now-normalized family structure also has a tendency to make my family life complicated and, sigh, drama filled.
I am very aware that these personal circumstances aren’t unique—I did watch Beverly Hills 90210 as an adolescent and I know that “complicated” describes many different families and experiences. Perhaps this is the reason I’ve come out on the other end rather unscathed and without a therapist’s bill to boot (although I’m sure at one point downloading my innermost thoughts and conflicts to a neutral party wouldn’t have hurt). The point being, I knew I wasn’t alone. I knew what to expect. And I knew it would never be as bad as a primetime soap opera.
All kidding aside, I am today a happy, well-adjusted adult who has lived a blessed childhood even in spite of the few imperfections or moments I’ve worked to forget over the years. I didn’t reach this peaceful stage until my mid-20s when I finally accepted that I could not change other people’s negative energy or ways and instead owned my emotions by ceasing to react and push back against the personality clashes, lifestyle differences, and inherently disparate values of my immediate family. Part of getting here, however, quite honestly meant limiting those interactions that aggravated and peeled back old wounds. I loved my family (still do), but for me to be free of the emotional baggage I chose to avoid social interaction on a large scale with those whom I found it unhealthy and unproductive to be around.
As a person who really prizes intimacy and connectedness in relationships, especially of the soul mate kind, this was and remains a difficult and oftentimes challenging decision. Up until our move back to Los Angeles, honoring this personally necessary choice was made easier by the fact that I lived thousands of miles away from the sometimes-toxic relationships that made it hard for me to remain in a positive place. Then I had my son.
Feeling protective of my son and our new family, I didn’t want to raise him in a home of strife and stress or allow such negative energy back into our life. He (and we) deserved better. So I felt very reluctant to open up my heart and home to the too-much-drama-for-this-mama family members. But—and it was a big BUT—I also felt it very important that he have a relationship with his family and in particular all his grandparents, no matter how his father and I felt about them and our adult relationships. They were his unique relationships to make, not mine to gate keep. He deserved this. And he deserved better (read: forgiving) parents too.
I also know individuals do not embody the same persona (and issues) when they are grandparents versus when they are parents. I loved my grandfather tremendously and thought him warm, attentive, and a bit like Santa Claus. My uncle, however, has memories of a completely different color that suggest his father was strict, demanding, and lacked compassion and empathy on all counts. Two very different sides to the same coin. And something I completely relate to based on my relationships with my immediate family and my husband’s with his own.
With this in mind, coupled with my newfound appreciation that parents are not perfect (and may have lacked the role modeling necessary to unconditionally love another human being), I let go of all remaining baggage, made peace with the fact that I don’t have to belong to the family of my childhood in order to find room for a new version of it in my adulthood, and found a way for my son to have his own authentic experience without me coloring his vision of his world.
~ Sarah Helene of Salt & Nectar
Sarah enjoys sharing the West Coast way of life—sun, sand, and a sense of balance—with her husband and toddler son, the Little Dude. Formerly a lawyer by day and aspiring creative type by night, Sarah now practices the art of motherhood, ongoing interior design, writing and editing, and Bravo TV watching from her home in Los Angeles, CA. When she’s not cooking asparagus for her son (he eats it by the bunch),Sarah loves to grab lunch at LACMA, search for the perfect French bakery, bliss out at yoga, and drink the occasional mojito. You can also findSarah musing on motherhood at her blog Salt & Nectar and on Facebook and Twitter.