Q:Hey there, wizened people with relatively normal lives, I’ve got a conundrum for you.
I recently, after a years-long struggle, decided I could not continue a relationship with my mother. The decision was obvious and absolutely necessary, but in no way easy. It remains a painful aspect of my life, and while I’m working hard on blooming (and I am blooming!), life’s kinda tough in the family section lately. It doesn’t make it easier that my father disowned me a few months ago. (Very separate relationships—if we could all not speculate as to why my own dad can’t love me, and why I am choosing to live a life free of abuse from my mom, that would be really, really appreciated.) That being said…
They—my birth family—are all hundreds of miles away and have been for five years. I packed up and moved long ago, and have since created a life full of joy, love, and healthy community—a HUGE change of pace from the addiction-riddled parenting of my childhood, the homelessness of my adolescence, and the turbulence of settling into an entirely new city and state. I’ve settled into this life and thrived. Additionally, I have cultivated a wonderful romance that is about to be officially betrothed! I couldn’t be happier with my sensitive, caring, hilarious, goofy, handsome, talented partner, and I’m thrilled that I have found this path in my life. I have a lot (outside of my relationship as well as within) to be grateful for.
Here’s the question. When I am “officially” engaged, and I call my siblings (who I am in no way close to), they are going to ask me if I’m going to call our mother. How the hell do I handle this? Mother’s Day was enough of a mess to last me for at least a solid year. Should I speakerphone call them with my sweetie? Is a photo text appropriate? And my sister-in-law of almost twenty years, who recently blocked me on Facebook for talking about homophobia being a problem (my partner and I are both queer), what do I even do with that? (I don’t really care for her to be involved.)
I’m entirely aware of how dysfunctional this all sounds, and it is. I don’t know how to wander through this dark forest, and my beau is helping the best he can, but… dang. What do we do here?
On a separate note: his family, and our friends, are all wonderful, sweet people, and announcing our news to them will be an absolute pleasure. I have no fears or anxieties about anything announcement-related outside my weird little gene pool.
A Black Sheep
A:Oh, Black Sheep. Who told you that I was a wizened person with a relatively normal life? I need to go correct them.
When you are estranged from a parent or relative, it can be hard not to feel like you’re the only one who has difficult family relationships. Because when it comes to family matters, a lot of people keep their own personal difficulties… well… in the family. Combine that with your average day on Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, etc.—the places where shiny happy friends show off their shiny happy reunions, vacations, holidays, you name it—and it’s pretty damn easy to feel like you’re the only person who can’t have nice things, like loving parents.
But you aren’t! Given the chance to take quick peek into most people’s personal lives, you’re going to find some kind of dysfunction. Everyone has their own dark forest to walk through at times, though others may be longer, shorter, or less full of terrors. Personally, I’m very, very guilty of being a shiny happy person most of the time on social media. But out here in the real world, I’ve also cut off all communication with my mother, for the sake of my own personal health and well being. So much for that “relatively normal life.” As many APW readers will likely tell you in comments, you are definitely not alone in this.
Now, your question. Having already walked the path of sharing engagement news with my estranged family, I’ll say that this is a problem that is unique to each person. The main question you need to answer for yourself—and I mean only yourself, this is not the time for outside opinions—is how much contact you’re willing to have with your mother, or any other estranged relative. If it’s none, then that’s your answer. No matter what everyone in your family says. The decision of whether or not to contact someone who has been a source of abuse is entirely yours, and not open for discussion.
When it comes to contacting the rest of the family, I’m going to suggest something that may fly in the face of what some etiquette guides might tell you: use whatever form of communication that will keep your “just engaged” happiness bubble in tact. You don’t owe anyone a phone call, so don’t feel like you’re obligated to start a phone tree fifteen minutes after the proposal. If you do still decide to call family, ask yourself this: will calling your sisters on the phone pop that happiness bubble when they ask about your mom? If yes, then deal with that specific phone call after you’ve had time to just be happy for yourself.
As for family members that you don’t wish to be involved, or who’ve blocked you, or who are just rude to you? Well, they can find out through the grapevine. You don’t have any obligation to share good news directly with people who don’t have the decency to be polite to you, regardless of their relation.
In this age of instant Facebook updates after major life events, it might feel like you’re required to inform your entire family via phone call in the span of hours, and that can be stressful even without strained family dynamics. I recommend sitting on the Facebook and social media update for a couple days—or even weeks—whatever works. And tell all your friends to sit on it, if they happen to be there or know about the proposal. Give yourself time to enjoy your newly engaged state, and then make the tougher phone calls after you’ve had some time to enjoy this new, big adventure you’re embarking upon.
There are going to be even more tough discussions ahead—wedding planning with estranged family is its own minefield—but they can wait for now. Make time for the happy moments, because the road you’ve got to travel will still be there, whenever you’re ready.
Like with any post that covers family situations, we ask that you do not pry into details of the original poster’s life. Any comments speculating about those details will be removed by moderating staff.