In Search of Family

Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving

When I was a child, I had one wish.  I wanted a real family.  I used to dream about it.  I remember sitting in my backyard and watching the house behind mine.  I am not sure why I picked that house.  There were houses in every direction because we lived in a suburb.  But that house was appealing for some reason.  I had met the family, so maybe I just thought they were nice.  I used to wonder about them.  Did they have a peaceful life?  Did they fight?  Did they abuse their kids?  I considered knocking on their door and asking if they would let me stay with them.

As I make my way through another holiday season with “just the three of us”, I can’t help but think about those missing family members.  I am not talking about the immediate family that lives under the same roof.  I am lucky enough to have that.  I am talking about extended family … aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins.  I don’t have that.  I know that it was my choice.  I chose to leave my biological family.  I chose to end my relationship with people who abused me throughout my entire childhood.  I made a choice that I could not make as a child.  I freed myself from those chains.  For that, I am proud of myself.

But there’s still something missing.  I get through the endless television commercials about perfect family dinners and emotional homecomings with my array of well-honed defense mechanisms.  I convince myself that I am lucky to avoid the family drama.  I don’t have to suffer the crazy uncle.  I don’t have to deal with the passive aggressive mother who reminds me that I am still not married.  I don’t have to eat food that I don’t like so there are no hurt feelings.  And I don’t have to pretend to like gifts that I could never like.

It sounds good.  But it’s not the whole picture.  And I know it.  When I focus on my kids, I get a little sad about it.  They won’t know grandparents.  They won’t know the experience of traveling to that special family home on the holidays.  They won’t have those family members that spoil them rotten with too many gifts and cookies past their bedtime.  They won’t have the cousins … those special holiday siblings.  It is hard to admit to myself that they will miss out on those things.

But after years of learning how to acknowledge my own needs, I can now admit that it goes beyond the kids.  I would like to have an extended family too.  I don’t really know what it’s like to have them, but I can guess.  I’ll bet there are people out there who can call their mother when they don’t know how to get their child to eat veggies.  I can guess that some people can meet their father for lunch to talk about those big life decisions.  I’ll bet there are sisters that go shopping together.  There might even be times when another minute seems like too much to handle, but with the unconditional support of family, it is surmountable.

Maybe I am dreaming.  Maybe all families are dysfunctional, frustrating and headache-inducing.  But maybe that is what makes the love of family unconditional.  And I believe that unconditional love may be the most healing love.  So I have made a decision to find it for myself.  It may not look like other families.  It might not come with a long history of childhood stories.  And we won’t be tied by blood.  But we will be family.  And it will be healing.

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20 thoughts on “In Search of Family

  1. I can relate in so many ways. Thank you for sharing your truth… I used to dream of the same as a child and those dreams were more intense during the holidays for sure. This year is my first year in which I plan on not wallowing about what was not for me in my life and to stop comparing myself to other happy happy families (it does suck!). I am going to try my hardest to honour the ordinary and to appreciate the “family” that I do have instead, mostly friends I have met in recovery. I am making my own family now and that is empowering. I know that there will be moments over the next few days when feelings of “missing” the family I never really had will wash over me and it will be painful, I am vowing now to feel those darn feelings as they surface – I trust now that they will pass… And, with each coming holiday – as I learn to reparent my inner-child more and more – those feelings of “missing” will be less intense. Maybe one day, I will actually live a holiday with genuine joy as opposed to enduring it, but it is a goal that I actively must work at especially when it hurts. Keep walking Hun! TY for sharing this again… I needed this. xo

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  2. I can relate. I’m always shocked when Hubby says he misses his family or wishes that he could see them. It’s so foreign to me, I don’t know how that feels and never have known. Sending you support this Christmas season xo

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  3. Dear Elizabeth, I have been following you for several months now and always look forward to your posts. We both follow some of the same blogs. Since I met Kerri Bishop Reece, (KerriChronicles.com) and heard her testimony, similar in many ways to your own, I have met other victims of rape and abuse and read with interest and compassion their stories. I can’t relate in any way to your story; but I can tell you that you have touched my heart. Nor can I relate to the loss of your extended family as I was blessed to grow up with two sets of grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins and all the things you long for. I wish there was some way I could fill your life with a loving extended family. I really wish I could. I’m so grieved that you have that dream in your heart and not the reality. I do know this, the God I serve will never leave you nor forsake you. He loves you more than any husband, father, mother or extended family could ever. He has been my shelter, my best friend, my comforter, my everything. He has been the only one I could turn to hundreds of times in my life. And I know He wants to be the same for you and your two wonderful children.

    I am a brother, a mentor, a soft spot for some to land, a confidant for some. I’m not bragging about my gifts or abilities. I tell you that to say to you I’d be honored to serve as a blogosphere uncle for you. I’m celebrating my 67th birthday today and my 20th wedding anniversary to my bride on December 30th. I know you and I barely know each other but I would like to extend the invitation to chat more, share more (I can send you links to my testimony on my blog, For His Glory. I published a series about my recovery in Alanon and 12-step programs) maybe even skyping or emailng each other periodically. I don’t pretend to take the place of a real uncle or dad (I have former students who will turn 50 this year UGH!). I have a few close fellow bloggers men and women. (Kerri is one of my special close blogging friends) with whom I have cultivated wonderful relationships online. I traveled to Huntsville, Alabama to meet her and record two video Coffee & Christ shows with her and plan to make another trip after the first of the year for at least two more shows.) I have even met one of my favorite bloggers and her family when they visited Atlanta with their four kids last summer (AmandaBeth). Think it over. Pray about it. By all means if this doesn’t sound like something you want to do, that’s okay. I won’t be offended if you say no. I won’t be offended if you say “he_ _ no.” I certainly understand you might have reservations. I’ll still follow you, still read your posts and still think of you with com cpassion and my hopes and prayers that your dream for a real extended family come true.

    My God richly bless you and your children and may your family all enjoy the blessings and the real joy of celebrating the birth of our Savior. Steven.

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    • I made a subject-verb agreement error in my last sentence. :>( It was supposed to read “your dream for a real extended family ‘comes’ true.” I would not have included this brief reply to my own comment, but as a former English teacher, who cringed at every subject-verb agreement error my students made, I must correct every one of mine that I catch myself making. I never judge the grammar of another blogger or writer, but I am my own toughest critic. :>)

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  4. Elisabeth, I just found another error. I misspelled your name. :>( Oh my. Next to subject-verb agreement errors, misspelling someone’s name is embarrassing. Sincerely sorry.

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    • Hi Steven, Thank you so much for your caring response to my post and your offer to interact more. I just followed your blog and I would love to hear from you about your posts. Just to warn you, my online interaction can be a bit sporadic because of my job and responsibilities at home. But I look forward to our discussions.

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      • Elisabeth, Thank you for following my blog. I suspended publishing posts indefinitely on November 11 for reasons I can explain another time. I urge you to browse the archives to get a flavor for my writing. I will be resuming posting some time after the first of the year. I understand about juggling jobs and responsibilities and kids. Been there. No problem. I would like to email you the links to my testimony series, if that’s okay with you. I have sent an email to the address I found on Traficked. I hope that’ the one. If so, just let me know and I’ll share the links.

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  5. I also can identify with so much of this. Both my husband and I have no extended family to speak of. Our next-door neighbor has a twin sister down the street, and it just makes me so sad to see them all coming and going together. They walk their dogs side by side everyday, and it never fails to choke me up. We have been invited to their “open house” on Xmas. We will go, but it’s so hard for us to enjoy ourselves. I feel like we are on-guard.
    There is a hole in our lives. Yet another thing our abusers took from us.
    Wishing you peace and all the best in building your family of choice. I wish we could all get together!

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  6. Elisabeth, We met at Anne Lamott’s talk. I am part of your First Baptist family. My ministry call is working with senior adults. Do you have any interest in befriending some seniors at our church? Over the years I’ve had wonderful relationships with them. They have ministered to me many times more than I ministered to them. Just a thought. Let me know if you are.

    Charlotte Evans

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    • Hi Charlotte, I am actually working on an email to Steve about a concept similar to that. It would not just be for me, but others who are looking for family. I have even gone as far as considering a non-profit organization. Send me an email at cecorey@live.com and we can discuss it in more detail. Thanks.

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  7. Oh how I wish I’d had this post to read this past holiday season. there are just the three of us, too. I also left my entire bio family and have none to replace them. I started my blog for that reason, to get through the holidays. I’m so glad I did. It’s saving my life and given me a real purpose. Thanks so much for this post. (Also the post on Woody Allen today–I sent my post (The Benefits of Speaking Out About Sexual Abuse) out to FB and Twitter today, all because your post gave me the courage. Thank you!

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    • Thank you so much Mandy! The holidays can be pretty rough for those of us without extended family, but I find that the writing helps me too. Survivors give each other courage. That is the beauty in these blogs. I look forward to reading your blog also.

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  8. My eyes are filling up as I write this comment. I identify so much with your story. I was not sexually abused but I was neglected and grew up feeling unloved. I never really had much of a relationship with my mother and my father, ….well, where do I start. I have made peace with my childhood. I had to for my own sanity’s sake. I distanced myself from my parents, siblings and extended family for many years because there was no point to pretend to have a relationship which just wasn’t there. I moved away to get married. I went to the furtherest part of my country away from them as I could find.

    I used to cry each time I saw a mother and daughter doing mother and daughter things or siblings just being siblings together. I nursed the hope that one day, I will have a chance to have an honest discussion with my mother about my childhood and she will apologise and say she loves me etc etc. About five years after I left my country, she was diagnosed with dimentia and gradually over the years she list most of her memory and towards the end it was impossible to hold anything against her. She was so unwell, needed full time care and was a very pale shadow of the powerful, domineering woman she used to be. She hardly remembered who I was.
    I remember when I first realised she was loosing her memory and that there was likely to be no chance to get an apology or at least an admittance of wrong doing from her ( I was kidding myself anyway, it was not something she will have done ever), I plunged into the worst grief I had ever known. I cried for my childhood lost and my future dream lost. It was as if she had died.
    She died two years ago almost 14 years after I had left home. I have forgiven her mainly because I have tried to understand the circumstances of her own life and her choices and also the circumstances of my birth etc.
    Anyway just to say, I relate with your story and I go through something and I tell myself ‘normal’ people will call a mum or a sister or brother and ask for advice or support. I am used to not being reliant on any of those. I have never really been and so I know how to live this way. I do ‘miss’ what I feel I never had though. As it stands now, I know I am no accident, I know I am loved by the intelligent mind that made me and I know I have the power to choose my family. But I have to admit, it is still struggle to go through life feeling as though large chunks of you never actually was. I have three children and I love them fiercely. I am determined that the story will be different for them.
    Thanks for sharing your story. xxx

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    • I totally understand. I expect to have a similar reaction when my parents die despite the fact that I no longer speak with them, and haven’t for years. I think all of us without childhoods have that hope (logical or not) that we will one day receive an apology and have a real family again. Unfortunately, I think this is what we have to let go of in order to heal. And that stinks.

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  9. This is the 3rd post I rea on a row and I had to say something, specially after reading your last comment.
    I didn’t have a childhood either. I was emotionally and physically abused for many years and this is the first time I am actually writing about it.

    I left my family 15 years ago in order to survive. I visit them form time to time, I like to think that I have forgotten my mum but sometimes I am not sure anymore. I know I haven’t forgotten my dad, I am aware that it will help to heal but I am afraid to forgive him, then forget how much can he hurt me, and try to have a relationship with him again. I haven’t gave up on the apology yet, I know is a trap, I am working on it and also on letting go the idea of having a real family.

    I’ve been searching for a family my whole life. Sometimes I even felt I had found it when surrounded by friends that also didn’t have families. It never lasted much. Then I even tried to create a family with a couple of friends, living together, creating our traditions and culture. When it got difficult everyone walked away so I wonder how does it work and how am I going to know if I have no experience? If the only family I had experienced is mine how am I going to know how to create a healthy one? That scares me.

    Love,

    Patri.

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    • Thank you for writing me. I completely understand what you are going through. I have asked myself many of these same questions. You do need to heal from your past, but I want to make sure you know it is not a requirement to forgive, receive an apology from them or continue your relationship with them. You can heal without any of those things. I wish you all the best in your journey. I also have a survivor forum on my site. Please consider joining as well.

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