Guest post: A tale of two families
TopHat blogs at With Your Mutual Approbation and the bee in your bonnet. She has 2 children who take up her knitting time, but she forgives them for that. This post was originally posted at the bee in your bonnet, and we’re glad she agreed to share it with us here.
It’s interesting being an adult child. All growing up, you only see one family and can’t imagine how a family might be run differently or behave differently. Then you meet people from different families and it’s kind of mind-blowing. Last month, after thinking a lot about Nature? Nurture? Neither? More? and what my goal is as a parent, I was looking up my friends’ Christmas photos on Facebook. I ran into a friend of mine who was in my stake during my youth. His parents had stake callings and sometimes chaperoned the youth dances, so I went through his pictures, curious to find out how the past decade had changed his family. They were happy, cheery, and surrounded by Christmas decorations: poinsettias and evergreens galore! But a couple of the pictures gave me pause.
I knew my friend, Dan, from stake dances and youth conferences and he graduated high school the same year I did. He went on a mission, graduated from BYU, met the love of his life there and moved to Massachusetts to marry that love, Michael, this past June. I don’t know all of his story, but I know that his journey as a gay Mormon has put some strain on his family. So when his Facebook status said that he was home for the holidays, I thought, Home? As in Illinois? No. He must mean he’s settled in his new apartment from that recent move. But I looked, and no, he meant home in Illinois.
So I was surprised that he was excited to go back to Illinois for Christmas (O’Hare? Really? At Christmastime?). The first picture that spoke to me was of Dan’s sister and Michael in a picture together with their arms around each other. Wow, I thought, that family must be doing something right. The second picture was of Dan’s entire family: parents and siblings and Michael, all together. Smiles.
Now, I have personal experience with Hmm. How do we look like we like each other without actually having to like each other pictures, and these are not those. You know when someone smiles, really smiles, their eyes smile? That’s what that picture is.
On the other end of the spectrum, I have a friend I met in Provo. She’s a church-going, calling-magnifying, married in the temple mom to a little girl and another on the way. Her husband just scored his dream job and they are living the dream. You might think her parents can die happy- after all, every one is temple-married and sealed and all that jazz. You’d think this, that is, if they knew they were grandparents. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way, the attitude of unconditional love was lost and so my friend, “Renee”, has not spoken to her parents in over 5 years. In fact, I use a made-up name because she does not want her family to find her through internet searches.
Renee doesn’t feel safe with her parents and doesn’t want her children to be exposed to the dynamics in her family, so she cut them off entirely. If you were to ask Renee’s parents if they love her, they would probably say, “Yes!” But to her, their actions haven’t said that and so for the time being, and perhaps for the rest of their lives, they cannot have a relationship with her.
Renee might represent an extreme case, but it’s not so far-fetched that it doesn’t exist. It does. And when I think of Dan and Renee’s families, I wonder what it was exactly that Dan’s family did to be able to assure Dan that he is loved and a welcome member of their family. I know that he had been open on some level about his journey surrounding his sexual orientation and that his parents were there for him even when he was a teen. And then, by the time Christmas 2010 came along, he was excited to come home, and the family there was loving and inclusive. This is a feat considering that Mormons and gays don’t really have the best track record for peace and acceptance. His parents did something right since he made it through his teen and early 20s years without giving up on them or himself.
And then I bring it back to my own family. I have a Margaret and an Isaac. I hope that as I parent, they feel assured that I really do love them unconditionally, and I hope they know they can come to me with all the messy details of their lives. I remember my teen years and the distress I went through that I didn’t think I could talk about to anyone- let alone my parents. And yet, out there, there are parents who are able to help their children make that jump into personhood. I want to be one of those parents.
And that is the issue I wrestle with most as a parent. How do I make sure that my children really feel loved and accepted? How do I make sure that they feel safe with me now and in the future? Every day I hope that the things I do translate into, “You are welcome here.”