A friend was describing his extended family relationships recently. He mentioned a member whom nobody had spoken to in ages. “He’s a real Black Sheep in the family,” my friend explained. That made me pause because, I, dear friends, am a Black Sheep, too. And every estranged family member has their side of the story.
Some of us choose to be distant from the families we were raised in because those families are just too dysfunctional for us to deal with. The members have no interest in getting healthy, communication is stagnant and,emotional abuse is the norm. I think that in our “family is all important” society, members unnecessarily stay with the status quo out of a sense of loyalty instead of bravely making choices to go outside the flock, where it’s healthier, and keep communication, if it must exist at all, to a bare minimum.
Sometimes it’s an issue of perceived “respect.” Sorry, but I do not believe in respecting my elders just because they’ve reached a physical age. Respect must be earned, not just bestowed upon because of the age of a person. If you don’t show me respect, I will not show it to you, no matter how old you are. And yes, that pertains to how my children treat me, as well. If I am disrespecting them, how can I expect them to show it to me?
Sometimes Black Sheep do not fulfill the expectations of mainstream family. This might be because of their immediate family (spouse, kids), economics, or differing values. One woman told me she was disappointed in her son because he did not buy her a new television like “all my friends’ kids are doing.” Why should her son be obligated to keep up with his mom’s friends? She told me she is angry because he’s not “doing what he’s ‘supposed’ to be doing” but the reality is what she feels he should be doing differers from what he feels his obligations are.
Often mainstream family just doesn’t want to hear the Black Sheep’s perspective, preferring to keep the peace with the majority. Understandable, I suppose, but nonetheless, a contributor to the estrangement of the family member.
In my case, I’ve been thrown out of the fold because I refused to obey a distant patriarch’s recommendation to sign some legal documents. The patriarch is shocked that I, a lowly female, won’t blindly listen to him and that I had the audacity to have a lawyer look over the papers. Thank goodness I did because my lawyer thinks it is not in my best interest to sign. My brother is livid that I won’t listen to this “kindly” old man. Sorry, but I don’t heed someone just because he’s an elderly family member. Nor will I sign papers my attorney says I should not. Yes, I’ve tried to explain my position to my brother, but he won’t listen. So I’ve been cast out. Am I happy about it? No. Would capitulating change things? Probably not. Am I upset about it? Not anymore.
A few weeks after things blew up, my 12-year old said, “Mom, you know I always felt uncomfortable when Uncle Bob would come over for the holidays. I mean, he drank too much and always ‘fell asleep’ on the couch. I didn’t like it.” “Then why didn’t you tell me,” I asked, incredulous. “Because he’s your brother. He’s family. But now that he won’t be coming over, I’m kinda relieved,” said my son. So am I.
This year, the gathering at Easter was very small. There were be no polite pretensions, no having to suck it up for family members we’d rather have not been around. My family is my husband and children, whom I treasure more than anything else in the world. My focus was be entirely on them, and appropriately so. The stress level was significantly lower than in past years. This Black Sheep, for one, is delighted to be out of the fold. Happy Spring! Baa!
This is an original post for Jersey Moms Blog.