When you are pregnant or thinking about starting a family, it is so common to think about the kind of family you want for you baby. You start to think about your own childhood and your experiences and memories, and you make a mental list of all the things you want to do differently, all the experiences you want your baby to share with you.
My childhood was rocky. It was chaotic and messy, and in a way lonely.
I have four siblings, an older sister and three younger brothers. It was an odd place to be in the line-up. My sister was a cool kid, very Regina George from Mean Girls. She was the It Girl, she had all the friends, knew everyone, did all the partying. Because of this a lot of the time people just knew me as her sister, and not as myself. Having Regina George as an older sister also meant that I was bullied mercilessly, and put in the supervisory role for my younger brothers because she was always doing something that kept her from babysitting.
My mom was a single parent. She worked tirelessly to make sure we all had what we needed, but that also meant that I didn’t get to see her very often. One of the first things I told myself when I started making a family of my own was that I wanted to spend a lot more time with my kids when they came along. It isn’t something I hold against my mother at all, I admire her work ethic and she taught me a lot, but it is something I wanted to do differently.
My relationship with my father was complicated. He had cheated on my mother when I was a kid and had an abusive relationship with her both emotionally and physically. It was difficult for me as a kid because when I was really small I was more of a Daddy’s Girl. He was the one I ran to when I had a problem, he was the one I ran towards with pure joy, he was a big part of my life and I idolized and loved him more than I could ever say.
However, watching what he put my mother through and the emotional toll losing him put on my brother, he suddenly became the villain in the tale of my life. Parents are human, and I completely understand they will make mistakes, we will all make mistakes. But I do think as a parent, it is your job to hide some of you mistakes, some of your villainous attributes from your kids and he made no effort in doing any of that. He included us in his villainy, made us bear witness to it all, and that to me was unforgivable.
When I became a teenager, I cut all ties with my father. He is a toxic person and I could no longer stomach his influences. I just needed distance, I needed to pull away for my own survival. I think in a big way that is what being an adult is, realizing that a lot of life is just trying to survive different situations.
When I was pregnant, I thought a lot about family. My husband’s family is the kind of family I always wanted when I was a kid. Two loving parents. A mom that is supportive and just radiates joy and love, and a father that finds a lesson in every situation. He is close to his two brothers and they have this bond that seems as though it would survive anything. Not to mention both his parents come from huge families and he is close to all 15+ aunts and uncles, and their children. It’s just such a wonderful family vibe and I am so happy to be a part of it.
However the downside of being the new addition to such a great family, is that it makes you look at your own in this sort of judgemental way. It made me long for they type of family I never really had.
In our family it is just us. We aren’t close with my mother’s sister and her kids. We don’t speak to our dad who remarried and has a whole new family. We don’t have relationships with our grandparents. It’s just the 6 of us, my mom, my four siblings, and I. Over time that family has grown a bit. My sister had a son, my brother had a son, I married adding my husband and now our daughter. Our family of 6 has become a family 11. It’s dysfunctional at times, but it’s mine and I love it.
When I was pregnant a lot of family related questions came to mind, but the biggest question I asked myself was whether or not I would finally answer one of those emails from my father, the ones where he makes a weak effort to reach out and attempt to rebuild the bridges he had burned.
Hormones can make you act crazy and question everything. I questioned my decision to completely cut him out.
I am happy to say I resisted that urge. Why? Because although family is important for children, there is nothing better for them then a healthy environment where they can witness healthy and functioning relationships.
There are no cookie-cutter families. Some families are two parents, four grandparents with lots of aunts and uncles and cousins. Some are one parent, four grandparents. Some are just a grandparent. Some are just one parent. Families come in all shapes and sizes and as long as everyone in that family is constantly working to make one another happy with their best interests always in mind, that’s what’s important, no matter what members make that family.
Toxic relationships are never good for anyone, and although it’s hard, sometimes you need to say goodbye to the harmful people in your life to ensure your happiness, and the happiness of your children.
It’s so important to make a family for your baby and your children, but it’s important for us as parents to be smart enough to know what family our children need. Sometimes including everyone isn’t what’s best.