Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Family sucks? Get a new one!

an old classic from the onion

         They say you can’t choose your family – I disagree. It is true that you have no control over the identities of your birth parents. Whether their brothers and sisters are serial killers and sociopaths is largely a top shelf issue that you couldn’t reach with the fire departments longest ladder. You can, however, make the choice to spend your life complaining that you got sold rotten fruit at the Market Basket or chuck it in the trash and go to the farm stand and buy fresh peaches.
        “What on earth is she talking about?” I know…if you’ve never been to a Market Basket – it’s the only grocery store I know of where they still package produce on Styrofoam trays wrapped in plastic wrap. So, if there ARE rotten spots, you won’t see them. Relatives don’t usually hide their rotten spots so nicely. Sociopaths like to share their dysfunction in loud ways. It’s almost as if they’ve been told that they get a bigger prize if they take you down with them. And I bet someone told you somewhere along the line that, “They’re your family. They’re the only family you get. It’s your job to be there for them,” along with the implied “even if it makes you miserable and drives you to alcoholism.” 
            Guess what. You’re actually not obligated to these people at all. Sharing DNA does not entitle someone to your time, money, respect, empathy, sympathy, wine, chocolate, or ice cream supply. These are things that need to be earned. And if that relative does nothing but drain, hurt, and take without ever giving you anything in return – you owe them NOTHING. I want you to cut them loose. Dump their shit and don’t feel bad about. Their problems are not your problems. You’ll be amazed at the huge weight that is lifted off of your shoulders. Now you’re worried about ending up all alone? Here’s the best part. You’ve just opened space for that new family. You might even already have a real family in the wings that you hadn’t noticed.
            When my grandfather passed away, his wife – the woman you would normally assume to be my grandmother – told me to “Keep in touch.” Those oh so loving words let me know that she wasn’t planning on keeping in touch and would probably go look for a new family. Why shouldn’t I?! (What a troll, right?) No worries. I happen to have multiple families already. It’s amazing what you discover when you just look around you. Growing up I spent the majority of my not–in-school time playing outside in the road with my friend and neighbor Debra, who is actually my sister. Her other sister is one of my closest friends, and another sister. Parents, a second set of parents… You get the idea. How do you differentiate between a friend and a family member? From my perspective, it is about the level of inappropriateness the conversations reach and whether or not there is a feeling of necessity in hiding grumpiness.
            It’s great to be able to replace family in the traditional sense. It doesn’t have to stop there, though. Or you could avoid that altogether and just go for a non-traditional transplant. I have a group of girlfriends from an old job who still get together for reunions as often as possible, though some have moved away so the numbers are dwindling a bit. It’s the kind of group that other people in restaurants probably wish they hadn’t been seated near. We’re pretty loud, and laugh a lot, and definitely don’t use any kind of self-editing. It's surprising we've never been asked to leave anywhere. I’d jump in front of a bus for any one of them. I don’t know that they’d go quite that far for me as some of them have children to take care of, but I’m sure they’d at least visit me in the hospital after I became a bus pancake.
            Between all of the people I’ve described I have more than outnumbered the members of my extended family who I never hear from. Now this is not to say there aren’t a few who I do hear from. I have one aunt who has NEVER missed a single one of my birthdays, God love her. And I have some family in Wisconsin who makes sure I know that they know I’m here. But when push comes to shove, there is absolutely no reason to spend time crying over the fact that someone who is too absorbed in themselves to take a moment for you DOESN’T TAKE THAT MOMENT FOR YOU. For example, if all of a sudden you have a new cousin and no one thought it was important enough to tell you, you don’t want those people's time anyway! For all you know, the child is half reptile - it's not like anyone told you a gender. That’s not family. Put your effort into the kinds of people who call you when you’re having a bad day, even if they’re having a bad day. People who will make fun of you for something you did four years ago, because they actually remember hanging out with you for that long. You can choose your family. And you can choose to nix your relatives. Your liver will thank you, I guarantee it. 

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