Jessica, this blog made me really think a lot about this subject. I too have a family that I have maybe 2 people left who I trust. I am also a father of 4. I raised my kids largely on my own, as their mom is mentally ill and wasn’t quite up for the task, so she left.
I have come to realize that we are hard wired to get our parent’s approval. No matter if they deserve it or not, we strive to get affirmations from the two people who brought us into this world. This makes us very sensitive about anything they say. Turning any word into a knife or an “atta girl/boy” . I have to say, being a parent myself has really changed my perspective. I have heard my children’s interpretation of something I said in innocently in jest(comedy is the bedrock of our little family) or meant as an encouragement be misconstrued as an attack or a judgement. Words can really hurt and they can never be taken back. But we are all human. We are all going to make mistakes. Both as the parent AND as the child. Parents try to love us with the best tools they have. For some, those aren’t many. It is the same way often that their parents treated them.
Love isn’t simply a transaction of “what’s in it for me”. Often times my love for my extended family has come back with a “return to sender” stamp on it. It hurts. I don’t deserve it, but that is on them. I am going to be a love filled being while I am on this planet. Which means they get love too. Deserved or not. If I am honest with myself, there are sometimes WE ourselves don’t deserve it, but get it anyway. Sometimes people in our family need a bit of grace. Other times, they are toxic and need to be excised from our lives. When we inevitably see them at holidays, I keep the conversation light and polite. But that is all they get. They have proven themselves to be unsafe people and don’t care to try add anything to your relationship, they are simply there to tear you down because it feels good for them to hurt others. Or makes them feel like the aren’t on the bottom rung of the pecking order. I on the other hand reject the concept of the pecking order. I am not a chicken. I have no use for it. So when extended family does chime in to my life, whatever their motivation, they get little to no response. I am willing to give them as many chances that it takes, but first they must understand that I am not a doormat, emotional scratching post, or any other hyperbole you can think of.
In the end relationships are what both people put into it. They have two sides. If anyone seeks to connect with me, I am here. I always have been. But it doesn’t mean they aren’t standing on a trap door for both of our safety.