This blog includes a short passage which I wrote several years ago to someone who was struggling with accepting a parent who was apparently uninterested in her daughter, or her grandchild. The parent did and said some very hurtful things, expressing her complete lack of interest in her child or grandchild. She was not really actively engaged in their lives. I recently read it, and decided that it’s worthy of a blog posting, because I think it applies in a lot of situations.
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When I was a teenager I lived with my sister and her family. When I decided to move out, I asked my sister, “If I were not your sister, would you still choose me as someone you would want to know?” In other words, would she like me anyway? It was an interesting question, because to some degree it took the personal factor out of the relationship, and gave her some space to look at how we related to one another. (She said yes.)
There comes a point in life where we are forced – if we live long enough – to see our parents (or other relatives) as people. Not just as people related to us, centered in our universe and significant to us, but as people who stand on their own, regardless of our connection to them. And then we come to a place where we learn to discriminate as to whether or not the life they live, the philosophy they exhibit in their behavior, is one we admire and respect. We might even ask ourselves, “If this person were not related to me, would I choose to have a relationship with him/her?
Now, we also have to take into account our own personalities, needs, sensitivities, etc., in order to determine what veils or lenses we are seeing through. “Daddy’s favorite” may not want to look at how Daddy hurt her siblings by ignoring them in favor of her. Looking at a parent objectively can help a great deal in seeing one’s relations with one’s siblings more clearly, and would also help in examining the behavior of a parent in a more objective light. A person who grew up with a single working mother may not accept the fact that the “lack of attention” he feels he suffered may have been a necessary outgrowth of the mother’s sacrifice, made in order to put food on the table and a roof over his head. There can be lots of mitigating factors. So one has to look at the whole person and see them not only through a child’s eyes, but through the eyes of an objective adult observer.
Bottom line is this: If they weren’t your parent, sibling, child, if your family relations were not involved, would you choose to have them in your life? What values and behaviors do they exhibit which make them someone you would want to continue to know?
All of this being said, I have learned that when looking at difficult relatives, it helps to add a dose of compassion when necessary, and a bit of empathy. If we are to truly understand another’s life and behavior, we must try to look at things from their perspective, and see if we can view them with new, perhaps more merciful eyes. This does not mean that you have to spend all your time with someone you do not respect or admire, or stay completely connected, but it does mean that you can try to look at this person and achieve some degree of detached understanding. Then, if you choose, you can let go, not out of anger, resentment or unhappiness, but because you don’t choose to allow someone else’s bad behavior to harm your life, and, by extension, the lives of those around you.
And, by the way, this title also applies to activities that we do, and have done for many years. There may come a point where it’s enough. It could be a hobby, a habit of meeting with certain people once a week, or a particular behavior/habit/ability that you exercise that you no longer choose to do. The key is to let go without any rancor, upset, anger, resentment, or any other negative feeling. Let go – the way you would let a helium balloon go – floating off, lifting away, free from you, and you free from it. Release.