When I was a child, I had one wish. I wanted a real family. I used to dream about it. I remember sitting in my backyard and watching the house behind mine. I am not sure why I picked that house. There were houses in every direction because we lived in a suburb. But that house was appealing for some reason. I had met the family, so maybe I just thought they were nice. I used to wonder about them. Did they have a peaceful life? Did they fight? Did they abuse their kids? I considered knocking on their door and asking if they would let me stay with them.
As I make my way through another holiday season with “just the three of us”, I can’t help but think about those missing family members. I am not talking about the immediate family that lives under the same roof. I am lucky enough to have that. I am talking about extended family … aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins. I don’t have that. I know that it was my choice. I chose to leave my biological family. I chose to end my relationship with people who abused me throughout my entire childhood. I made a choice that I could not make as a child. I freed myself from those chains. For that, I am proud of myself.
But there’s still something missing. I get through the endless television commercials about perfect family dinners and emotional homecomings with my array of well-honed defense mechanisms. I convince myself that I am lucky to avoid the family drama. I don’t have to suffer the crazy uncle. I don’t have to deal with the passive aggressive mother who reminds me that I am still not married. I don’t have to eat food that I don’t like so there are no hurt feelings. And I don’t have to pretend to like gifts that I could never like.
It sounds good. But it’s not the whole picture. And I know it. When I focus on my kids, I get a little sad about it. They won’t know grandparents. They won’t know the experience of traveling to that special family home on the holidays. They won’t have those family members that spoil them rotten with too many gifts and cookies past their bedtime. They won’t have the cousins … those special holiday siblings. It is hard to admit to myself that they will miss out on those things.
But after years of learning how to acknowledge my own needs, I can now admit that it goes beyond the kids. I would like to have an extended family too. I don’t really know what it’s like to have them, but I can guess. I’ll bet there are people out there who can call their mother when they don’t know how to get their child to eat veggies. I can guess that some people can meet their father for lunch to talk about those big life decisions. I’ll bet there are sisters that go shopping together. There might even be times when another minute seems like too much to handle, but with the unconditional support of family, it is surmountable.
Maybe I am dreaming. Maybe all families are dysfunctional, frustrating and headache-inducing. But maybe that is what makes the love of family unconditional. And I believe that unconditional love may be the most healing love. So I have made a decision to find it for myself. It may not look like other families. It might not come with a long history of childhood stories. And we won’t be tied by blood. But we will be family. And it will be healing.
Written by Elisabeth Corey