I’d barely had a chance to speak with my oldest sister L and younger sister R, and I had wanted to let them know at least a little bit of what was going on in my life, seeing as how the public announcement of the divorce is only a month away. L had been stuck at her hotel sick, but R had been at our Thanksgiving meal in the senior center and had helped with a lot of the food, particularly desserts. So when I found out she’d gone up to my mom and stepdad’s RV, and wouldn’t be around the kids, I went to speak to her.
I don’t know what I’d been expecting, exactly – I guess that she’d accept the news and offer some generic sympathy and that would be it. That is definitely not what happened. Someone had told her the news already, and I… ended up on the receiving end of a bewildering lecture from both her and my stepdad. My sister’s attitude was very much ‘I’m telling you these things for your own good, my idiot sister, because I love you and it’s clear you need guidance.’
And then I heard attitudes from her and my stepdad that I’ve heard from my husband. I just don’t push myself hard enough. I need to think of my children. According to the things they were saying, it became clear they see me as relentlessly negative, lazy and selfish, doing this to ‘get the life I want.’ They’d accepted that I was divorcing and weren’t going to try to talk me out of that, but apparently there was… something… that they needed to talk to me about – some idea they had of me in their heads.
Apparently 16 years of sacrificing everything I liked about my life and myself to focus on my marriage and children isn’t evidence I’m willing to sacrifice. Apparently the fact that my kids are sweet, kind, well-adjusted children isn’t evidence I’ve tried to do my best by them (that credit must go to my husband, I guess.)
I just need to think positive thoughts, exercise intensely, write down goals and use my children as motivation and it’ll fix me up right as rain.
My stepdad on the other hand – afterward, I realized I don’t think he likes me. He may, in fact, just about hate me. There was so much vitriol and anger pouring out of him that was incredibly personal and seemed like it was intended to hurt my feelings. “You’re not special,” he said, harshly, more than once. “We’ve all had hard times, we’ve all been depressed.”
Nothing I said seemed to get through. How leaving Christianity behind and believing this life is the only one I have isn’t a negative thing for me, it’s why I believe I should focus on living a good life – because this is the only one I get. How I know I’m not going to get the life I wanted – I was never guaranteed that to begin with – how I just wanted a life in which I could feel happy, sometimes, instead of going so long without any happiness that I forgot what that emotion felt like.
“Life doesn’t guarantee happiness,” my stepfather threw in my face, as if I’m not keenly aware of that.
He sure as hell didn’t want to hear anything about the scientific research that’s been done on mental illness or sleep deprivation. My sister didn’t want to hear about how I can’t just ‘exercise intensely’ and have to build to that point. Walking isn’t good enough, even though walking was where I needed to start to build my body back up. She told me to write down goals and then sailed over the fact that I’ve done exactly that. In fact, I have a list of goals I wrote in July and published on this very blog, all of which I’ve been working on for the last 4 months.
According to my sister and stepdad, I need to have a legacy (my kids) and I also need to leave a legacy for my kids. I need to make them my motivation. I’m going to be old and they’ll have to take care of me one day. Well that’s just not how I approach progeny. I didn’t have my kids so they could be my reason to exist. I sure as hell don’t want to be the reason for my parents to exist, and I sure as hell don’t want my parents to center their lives around me – in fact, I wish my mom had done a lot less centering her life around us. I didn’t have children so they’d care for me in my old age. They didn’t choose to be born, I made that choice for them, and I’m not going to put those expectations on them.
Also, according to my stepdad, no one else in the family has been hurt by Christianity and the way we were raised. I’m just using Christianity, my mom, and now my husband to blame for what’s wrong with my life, but everything wrong in my life is all my fault. Oh and by the way, I’ve really hurt my mom’s feelings complaining about Christianity. (Maybe if my mom didn’t identify as a religion she wouldn’t take my criticism of Christian history and evangelical theology and general church behavior as a personal attack, but okay.)
The stuff my stepdad brought up was from 2016, and had nothing to do with my divorce. I’m pretty sure he’s holding a grudge over the fact that I did my best to eviscerate evangelical Christians and Trump supporters in general for throwing aside their much vaunted morals in exchange for temporal political power. He saw this conversation as his moment to get back at me.
6+ years ago when I’d post on Facebook hinting at how hard life was for me, my mom would tell me what I good mother I am and how it would all be worth it. Apparently I’ll get praised for being a good person and a good mother as long as I’m willing to just sit in my suffering – and as long as I’m willing to adhere to the family’s conservative world view. That’s my real flaw right there. I became a liberal.
My sister lectured me about unfriending people on facebook because “I need people that have other viewpoints.” Apparently 30 years steeped in conservative beliefs without listening to other viewpoints was fine, but 8 years of listening to the other side and reevaluating my beliefs based on that is not fine. (My sister R isn’t even Christian, but she still has a very conservative worldview overall.)
The conversation did end eventually and I walked out of the RV reeling inside. My sister J showed up shortly after and I broke down crying when I tried to tell her about the conversation.
I am thinking of my children. My husband has a decent career with a middle class income. I could accept getting automatically awarded custody in Indiana, or make him fight a bitter battle over which parent the kids will live with, and if I win, take child support and alimony and go back to school. He would then collapse and spiral out, probably getting fired or quitting, and then the children and I would be on welfare. He might even become suicidal. Or I can let my children live with their dad, knowing it will keep him as stable and centered as possible and that they’ll get a higher standard of living than I could give them. I know I can survive not having my children living with me better than my husband could survive that.
None of the facts matter, though. My mom, stepdad and sister have made up their minds about what kind of person I am, and it’s not the person they want me to be. So they’ll push my head underwater and tell me its for my own good, because I have to learn to be a better person, but only the better person they envision.
Returning home Sunday I felt like I’d been kicked in the heart Saturday night. I spent two days venting about it to A and H – using sarcasm and whinging to keep the abyss and I from eyeballing each other. It hurt so damn badly to know that was how my sister saw me – it hurt so damn badly to hear that anger and vitriol and desire to hurt me pouring out of my stepfather. It was so damn frustrating to hear the woman that isolated me and deliberately prevented me from learning things that would counter her world view as a child, accuse me of ‘always having to be right.’
My mother’s feelings and her fragility are protected and she’s not told to take responsibility for the choices she made in our childhood, but I’m told nothing she did matters and that it’s all on me – when, in fact, I have been taking responsibility all along for becoming the person I am today – when for most of those years, I haven’t had people that supported growth in my life – I had people that were indifferent to my growth or actively threatened by my growth.
I taught myself history and science and listened and evaluated my beliefs, and when I came to the conclusion that I was wrong about what I believed, I changed – I worked on altering the way I thought, the way I spoke, the way I behaved – to become a person that was less toxic and less dysfunctional and less likely to hurt other people. That is the opposite of being negative and lazy and selfish.
I don’t need a legacy. 99.99% of humans are forgotten within a few generations anyway. My children are human beings that will have to move through this world to the best of their ability and I’ve tried to give them better preparation for that than I was given. That means teaching and supporting their right to have boundaries, to promote empathy towards others and towards themselves, to allow them to have feelings and pursuits and beliefs that differ from mine. To try and teach them to be mindful but not fearful. I hope when they’re older they’ll like me well enough to want to spend time with me, rather than feeling like it’s their unpleasant duty to spend time with me.
Saying I shouldn’t have married my husband and that I shouldn’t have been a mother is not the same thing as saying I don’t love my children. The fact that I do love them and can’t prevent them from experiencing pain from my choices makes things a lot harder.