I’ve got some family issues. As do most people, I imagine. And mine aren’t all that dramatic, after all, I’ve heard way worse. But my parents had a messy divorce and I was raised as the oldest child of a single mom with four kids – and for a long time, that was the most defining characteristic of mine. The biggest piece of my identity. And it seems odd and strange to be catapulted back into that role, when, in so many ways, I define myself so differently now. Haven’t I moved past this? Haven’t I already done this? I’ve got a husband, a marriage, THREE kids of my own – why am I still pondering my role as the oldest child of my parent’s?
There’s a lot of research on what divorce does to a child. And a lot more speculation on how it affects them. And for me, I can’t say how I’d be different, had I grown up with my parents’ marriage intact. I know only that I made my peace with my childhood a long time ago. My dad tried his best, I think, but he was very young, by the time I had had my first child, my parents had had their fourth and were on their way to divorce court. And he wasn’t around much, when he was, it was complicated and sticky and hard. I felt like I was in the middle a lot, trying to make them both happy, trying to protect my younger brothers and sister, and not doing a really great job of any of it. I knew he loved me, but I also knew he wasn’t very good at it. Being a parent just seemed to come naturally to my mother, I always knew that I could lean on her. My dad? Sometimes I felt like I was more capable than he was, and I don’t mean that as insultingly as it sounds. Just that I was very aware of how to take care of my younger siblings, and felt as though I was really in charge, and I felt like he was doing his best, but really wasn’t very good at having four kids running around.
When he stopped calling, it wasn’t a huge loss, in a lot of ways. I had a fully functional parent, a large extended family that loved me, and honestly, it wasn’t like I had a lot of choice in the matter. He was gone, and the best thing I could do was be okay with that. Mourning the loss of a father who had just walked away seemed … at best, a fruitless sort of thing to do. He chose to leave, there’s no point in feeling bad about being left, better to just accept it and move on. So that’s what I did.
Only now… he’s back. Sort of. Not really, but a little bit. And I have no clue how to handle it. How to handle his extended family – people who, from my perspective, walked away from us a long time ago. People change, and people can really regret actions. And after all, if I’m thirty six, this all started thirty years ago. That’s a LONG freaking time ago.
I’m still struggling with balancing things. Balancing out my mother’s feelings, my desire to protect my baby sister, her desire to not be alone in this, balancing out how my father must feel, and how responsible I feel for the whole situation. Because that’s part of my own issue – I tend to feel responsible for every little thing. Like it’s my job to make it okay for everyone, to make my parents feel okay about this, to make my siblings not feel stuck, to somehow manage the situation so that everyone comes out of it okay. And I’m finding that I’m no better at it now than I was as a child. I can’t fix this – I can’t make it okay for everyone – and what’s more – it’s not really my job to do so. This is a choice that everyone involved has to take ownership for – to get involved again, to maintain my distance, to somehow navigate this tricky terrain.
And I guess that I have to make my way thru it – because hiding from it isn’t going to make it go away. But I’m much happier in my role now – as a wife and a mother, it’s a lot easier than being six, seven, eight, etc, and trying to work this all out. And there’s a big part of me that would rather pretend that none of this is happening and just focus on my husband, my kids, my life now.
Speaking of my life now – all three of my cherubs are asleep. And if I could finish all the damn laundry, I could go to sleep too – but Julie spit up all over her big sister’s dress that she was planning on wearing tomorrow and I promised it’d be clean for school so I’m still waiting for the wash to finish before I toss it over into the dryer.