I Refuse to Participate in My Own Invisiblity aka Divorcing My Parents

DiAnna Ritola
5 min readDec 5, 2018
Photo by Nicolas Thomas on Unsplash

It’s been 18 months since I last spoke to my mother, and my stress level has decreased dramatically. For the previous 14 years I would stave off contact for a month or more before the guilt would drive me to call or answer the phone when my parents’ number showed on the screen.

When my kids were little, I called my mom every week, at least. She wanted to know everything about them, and she’d ask about what I was doing, too. She approved of my choice to be a SAHM, and she imagined my life would mirror hers to a large extent. However, as my children aged, and I started to question why I was so miserable in my marriage, I started to put off calling my mother so I didn’t have to hear her minimize my feelings or ignore my words of struggle and just tell me to pray about it.

As things got worse in my marriage, I sought out therapy, and I realized that one of the reasons for my misery was that I’m not straight. I’m lesbian. It took over a year to figure out how to leave, and my contact with my parents became even more spread out.

For years, I struggled in the monthly (more or less) phone calls and the once-every-year-or-two visits. You see, my parents are strict Roman Catholics and staunch Republicans, and my sexual orientation is a big problem for them.

I didn’t think this would happen. For the first few years I told myself they needed time to adjust, that they were hurting, too, and that after a while they’d get used to this newer, truer version of me. They’d see how happy I was becoming, and they’d be happy, too.

That’s not how it turned out. In the first two years after my divorce, I had to come out to them three times. My mom asked about my ex-husband in nearly every phone call. I gritted my teeth each time and told her she’d have to ask my daughters since they were the ones who spent time with him.

For the next several years, my parents chose denial and repression. If they didn’t talk about it, I couldn’t be “the L word”. During phone calls, I could talk about my jobs, or classes when I went back for my Bachelor’s degree. We could definitely talk about my children. We could talk about all my siblings and their children, and we could talk about my grandmothers when they were still alive.

What we couldn’t talk about was my social life, my friends, my dates, my girlfriends, or even my partner. For the entire 5 years we were together I think I heard her name 3 times from my parents, one of which was the time they told me not to visit them because they would never accept her as part of my life.

The grief I experienced after that particular call was excruciating. Throughout my childhood and adolescence, my parents had a mantra that they repeated every time one of us kids had a fight with a friend: Friends will come and go, but you always have your family. Family comes first.

I’d known that my parents had conditions on their love when I was a kid. I felt their disapproval of certain behaviors and actions as palpably as any spanking. Good kids got love and affection; bad kids got lectures and punishments. The lines of good and bad were pretty well-defined. Somehow I thought that would ease as my siblings and I became adults.

Three years ago, I met and fell in love with a woman who has brought immense joy and comfort, stability and adventure into my life. She loves my children, who are emerging adults themselves, and she supports me in all ways. She also comes from a large Catholic family, but it seems like a whole different brand of Catholicism. My wife came out at 19 years old, and her family never turned their backs, though each person did have their own adjustment process.

When she introduced me to her family, I was welcomed with open arms and hearts, and I almost didn’t know how to handle it.

As I grew in love for my partner and had repeated contact with her family, the contrast between acceptance and denial grew starker and harder to ignore. When we got engaged, I waited 8 weeks before telling my parents. We never discussed it again during the subsequent year of sporadic contact.

As my wedding date drew nearer, I got really angry that I couldn’t share my joy and plans with my mom and dad. They had informed me during the engagement call that they would not consider attending my wedding, so it wasn’t like I was sitting on pins and needles over the “will they/won’t they” question. I realized that in order to preserve my peace of mind and begin my marriage with my whole self, I needed to cut ties with my parents and my wish that they’d accept and love me as they had promised when I was a child.

I wrote a long letter and mailed it a couple of weeks before my wedding. I received a short response via mail from my mother with much the same content of “sorry, not sorry” that other conversations on the phone or in person ended with in the past. This time, I knew that my hope of reconciliation and understanding had died. I put her letter in the recycling and breathed deeply. I found my grief was barely perceptible. I’d already been grieving for over a decade.

In the past 18 months, I have reclaimed my visibility. Having to censor my life, my loves, my friendships, and my activities in conversations with my parents had a detrimental effect on my psyche. I participated in my own invisibility because I wanted to remain connected, but I came to see that connection based on diminishment and hiding is actually not connection at all. By choosing to cut ties with my folks, I have strengthened my connection with own integrity and my connection with my wife, my siblings and in-laws and others who do not ask me to stay hidden.

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DiAnna Ritola

Life Coach. Writer. Clergy. Lesbian. Fascinated with the messiness of humans. Celebrating kindness and adventure. www.diannaritola.com