I was 13 years old when my mom officially checked out of my life. But the truth is, she’d checked out mentally years before that.
The story of what happened to our family is long and complicated, and nothing is ever as black and white as it seems. While I admittedly carry a lot of hurt regarding the things that happened in my childhood, I also have a great deal of compassion for my mother and what she was going through at the time.
But that doesn’t mean I can have a healthy relationship with her today.
She’s tried, though. At several points in my adult life she has reached out and attempted to make amends. I’m the one who has never been open to it. By the time she made any real attempts, she had been out of my life for longer than she’d ever been in it. And I just didn’t have it in me to disrupt the stability I had built around myself in exchange for the potential turmoil opening those doors might bring.
I still don’t. And I don’t believe I ever will.
When I tell the story of my childhood, and of the walls I had to build in regards to family, I’m always surprised by how many people seem to relate. It’s something you can feel incredibly alone in, but the truth is, there are so many people out there like me. So many others who have living parents, or siblings, or grandparents they no longer have relationships with.
Still, there are also those who see something inherently selfish in people like me; people willing to cut themselves off from blood. They are the ones who declare that “family is family” and “blood is thicker than water.” “You take the good with the bad,” they argue.
And I don’t necessarily disagree. I don’t like the idea of treating people as disposable.
But I’ve come to realize that sometimes, choosing your own stability and health has to be the priority. Especially once you become a parent; once you have little ones of your own looking up to you and relying on you to create that stability for them.
Some people are just better equipped to handle chaos than others, and so much of it comes down to your ability to compartmentalize. Think about the people who make great soldiers, or are able to take on other emotionally intense jobs, without being broken by the weight of what they do. They walk away from the work and don’t ever carry it with them.
But there are plenty of others who could never work in similar fields. The continuous stress and trauma would threaten to destroy them, manifesting in PTSD, depression, anxiety, or even substance abuse issues.
Compartmentalizers can accept the bad without allowing it to overwhelm the good. They can endure chaos and even toxic dysfunction without letting it bring them down. But not everyone is a great compartmentalizer. There are plenty of others who deeply internalize everything around them instead, making it much more difficult to simply let go of the bad.
I fall into that latter category. And it’s taken me a long time to realize that it’s not because I’m not as strong as those who better compartmentalize. It’s just that I feel everything. And there can be benefits to that — I’m introspective and aware of those around me, and I’m absolutely the person you want by your side if you’re going through a hard time.
But I’m also a sponge for emotions and I tend to soak up whatever is happening around me. Because of that, I can’t handle a lot of chaos. I’m not someone who can remain “whole” in unhealthy situations.
I like to present myself as being a strong person, and I’ve worked hard to earn that strength. But it didn’t come naturally. It came from learning, through years of therapy, that I need to be really careful about the situations I put myself in and the people I surround myself with. I’ve had to learn to choose stability, because my personal wellbeing is so deeply influenced by the wellbeing of those around me.
Which means I’ve come to a place of peace with keeping my mother out. And with setting boundaries when it comes to anyone who threatens my stability with their chaos. Even when those people are family.
It’s a hard line to draw, and from an outsider’s perspective, I can see how it might look selfish. But it’s not that I don’t have compassion; it’s more that my compassion can sometimes overwhelm me.
Now that I’m a mother, this awareness is even more important. My daughter is so much like me, in so many different ways, and I’ve seen firsthand just how affected she is by the moods of people and situations around her.
But becoming a mother has strengthened my resolve and allowed me to better respect my limitations. And it’s confirmed my belief that choosing stability doesn’t make you selfish. Or weak. Knowing what you can handle, and being willing to draw those lines — that’s what indicates strength. We don’t have to be everything to everybody. And as parents, it’s okay to prioritize our own little families first.
So for me, I choose my daughter. I choose us. Even when that sometimes means building walls others might disagree with.More On