Updated: Jan 12
Every time I come across a Harry and Meghan headline bashing their families, I cringe. No-one should air their dirty laundry in public, hence why I rarely talk about my own parental estrangement.
However, in this instalment of my blog I've decided to be vulnerable and I'm up for a bit of (perhaps) over sharing.
As the saying goes; you can choose your friends but you can't choose your family. Even friendships can test us and I think at some point in our lives (for me, it was turning 40) we have to make some uncomfortable decisions about with whom we invest our time. Time is precious, especially as we get older and our own children need us more. So a friendship cull is healthy and a necessary part of growing up, whether it be when we leave school, start a family, or get to that age/stage where we simply don't have the patience anymore. Personalities that drain our energy, mood hoovers, as I once heard them described, will hold us back when our natural instinct is to keep growing and moving forward. And some friends we simply out-grow.
You are the average of the five people you surround yourself with, so choose wisely.
Family relationships can be complex too, I recognise this even more so since becoming a mum. We are, after all, a product of our parents, and we can blame them for so many things we dislike about ourselves, as the famous poem by Philip Larkin goes...
They fuck you up, your mum and dad. They may not mean to, but they do. They fill you with the faults they had And add some extra, just for you. But they were fucked up in their turn By fools in old-style hats and coats, Who half the time were soppy-stern And half at one another's throats. Man hands on misery to man. It deepens like a coastal shelf. Get out as early as you can, And don't have any kids yourself.
- Philip Larkin
Parental estrangement, although a taboo subject, isn't as rare as we might think. To leave my parents out of my life was not a spur of the moment decision. It had been building since childhood, one or two attempts had already failed. Things finally came to a head after a family argument, a heated exchange in which they behaved quite differently to the people I thought I knew.
Over the following weeks and months I realised the positive benefits of not having them in my life, and this continues to be the case as the years go by. I haven't spoken to them for more or less 15 years, I haven't kept count. Some people who know me find this difficult to get their heads around, others wish they had the courage to walk away from their own toxic relationships.
I believe there is a moment in ones life when we realise our parents aren't the all-knowing superheroes we grew up idolising. We put them on a pedestal only to realise they are simply human, like the rest of us they're making it up as they go along. And for older parents the generational gap can be a bridge too far, especially when neither side has the desire to bend.
The disappointment I felt when realising how flawed they were was pretty crushing. I am acutely aware of this with my own daughter, as I plant the seeds and watch our relationship grow. I tell her that I'm not perfect, I say sorry and admit a mistake, I cry in front of her when it feels ok to do so, and show my vulnerable side at times. However, she has already put me on that pedestal. To her, I am perfect; the best mummy in the world (in distance, that's sometimes an arm span and sometimes around the moon and back).
They were only doing their best, we tell ourselves in moments of forgiveness.
I, in turn, am doing my best, and am surely making my own mistakes. But then that's what makes life so interesting.
Ann Camargo, The Corporate Mind