When a particularly important professional moment occurred for me recently, my fingers itched to send an email to a close family member to share my news as well as to hear those words every kid-inside-the-grown-up body wants to hear: “I’m proud of you.” Then I remembered that I am no longer in contact with that person; that I had disappointed them to the point that shunning is my punishment. While I felt a moment of sadness and regret that someone I love and was close to on so many levels is no longer in my life, the optimist in me began to see the silver lining. Why? Because I am no longer tethered to the need to please; I no longer harbor fear that I will be judged and rejected. I am free now to be “me.”
That’s the thing about family; they have such power if you let them; power to build you up as well as to tear you down. The cliché goes that you don’t pick your family; that’s true. But, what is also true is that your family doesn’t have to define you. With the loss of this person who played so many significant roles in my life, the greatest of which was surrogate mother, I am released from a sense of obligation to be the “good girl.” I answer to myself and the husband I am committed to, as well as to my siblings and children, but to a lesser degree. Do I worry that I will misstep and lose their loyalty, too? Sure, but I strive to give them unconditional love and support and hold the belief that it is reciprocal. In addition, I’ve created an extended family, made up of friends who buoy me through rough times, who celebrate my accomplishments, and who are willing to give of their time and love, and anything else they can offer because it is a choice and not an obligation.
It was over two years ago that I stepped out of line and paid the price with estrangement. Between then and now I have experienced a range of emotions: shock, guilt, shame; then “angness” - that complicated, fluctuating mix of anger and sadness. I have grieved the loss and finally come to terms with it with the help of time. That optimist in me is grateful for the experience. Now, who knows to what heights I’ll be able to reach with my new-found freedom.
Who’s your family? The one that surrounds you with love, that’s who.