Several years ago, I tucked my son Zachary into bed, he was about ten years old, and I hugged him tight. I told him I loved him.
“Will you love me forever, Mom?”
I assured him I would.
“We will always be close and together?”
I smiled, and pushed his curly brown hair out of his big beautiful eyes, kissed his forehead and said,
“As long as you don’t turn into an asshole or marry one.”
Years later, I stand by it.
I am convinced that more families should adopt this point of view. Especially around the holidays, how many times do you hear about people visiting relatives and coming back with horror stories?
Why do they put up with a mother who, for 15 years, has been insulting and mean? Why do they tolerate a brother who can’t get his own life together but is comfortable criticizing everyone else?
It’s not acceptable to treat strangers this way, so why do we take it from family members?
Because if we go back far enough, we all came from the same uterus?
It’s not okay. Not on any level.
I’ve stopped visiting siblings who don’t know how to show warmth and love, who have control issues and get angry when I flush the toilet twice or sleep past 7 a.m. because “jet lag doesn’t exist!” I’ve stopped traveling with Vacation Nazis, who make everyone’s trip a living hell unless we follow their schedule and “stick together!”
Who needs that kind of treatment?
Let’s face it. As relatives age, sometimes they marry the wrong person, or make bad choices and regret certain decisions, and when that happens, they take it out on each other.
That’s easier than holding themselves accountable.
The idea that this is acceptable because we’re “family” makes no sense to me.
And the pushback has been intense at times.
When I’ve decided a person’s rudeness is over the line, and I’m done visiting them, other family members have tried to intervene. They don’t encourage those with toxic bad attitudes to cease and desist. No, that’s too challenging. It’s much easier to attempt to pressure me into accepting it because Dad, Brother, or Sister is “never going to change so just ignore it.”
I reject that line of reasoning.
As a result, I’ve received nasty text messages, insulting emails, and freeze-outs where no communication occurs – all in an attempt to, what, woo me back?
I’ve suggested said family members search within themselves and discover where they are lacking, as a human being, to warrant an estrangement.
That’s often met with, “Good Lord, we’re family. We don’t have to be polite.”
Well, why not?
What’s wrong with affording family the same courtesy we afford friends?
It’d make for a much more pleasant Thanksgiving meal. I’ll tell you that.
I no longer give these rude and miserable family members any grief for their bad attitudes. I recognize they are either new parents, and sleep deprived, or maybe they’re stuck in a bad job and stressed out, or perhaps they’re just struggling and dealing with life the best way they can.
Even if we’re going on a decade or more of sheer nastiness.
They have my undying love and positive thoughts.
But I don’t owe anyone my company.
Despite similar genetics, if someone can’t summon up the decency to be kind, don’t reward them with your presence. You deserve better.
A more peaceful world begins at home.
Happy New Year.
Catherine Durkin Robinson is a political advocate and organizer, living in Tampa. Column courtesy of Context Florida.