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Jan 07 2014

When Should You Divorce Your Family?

Over Christmas I heard stories from a few of my friends about horrible things done and said by their family as they gathered. Some of it was just plain emotional abuse. Keli Goff asks an important question: If it’s accepted that we can divorce a spouse, why can’t we divorce a family member without being made to feel guilty over it?

While divorce is widely accepted today there remains a stigma around ending a relationship with other family members, often no matter how egregious their behavior. I was reminded of this just before the holidays when on a recent episode of Oprah Winfrey’s Lifeclass, megachurch pastor T.D. Jakes chastised two sisters who had not spoken in years. The reason for the estrangement: one sister tried to engage in an affair with the other’s boyfriend but was caught before the relationship was consummated. The sister in question had never apologized to her sibling for this transgression. Yet for some reason Jakes seemed under the impression that having this woman out of her life was a major loss for the sister who’s boyfriend the other one had tried to shag and insisted they reconcile. But the question I kept asking is why?

Why should this woman want a person she cannot trust and has shown her no remorse or empathy to remain in her life? What benefit is there in such a relationship? Jakes insisted on the importance of blood, which seems an odd reasoning to focus on when it comes to defining what constitutes a worthwhile relationship, particularly since we live in a society in which there are plenty of strong, healthy adoptive families who do not define family along bloodlines. He did mention the possibility of needing a kidney one day, which I guess is something. But by that logic children should never be taken from abusive parents and adopted by others because “you never know when they might need a kidney.”…

For this reason and others we all tend to tolerate behavior from siblings and parents we never would from spouses or romantic partners. But Doherty and the other therapists interviewed also believe we tolerate more from family members because society expects us to. Pressure, particularly on those who are religious, to forgive can often result in the mistaken assumption that forgiveness means one should tolerate unhealthy behavior for a lifetime.

But Rev. Jacqui Lewis, a pastor at Middle Collegiate Church in Manhattan said this is not the case. While she stressed that as a pastor her focus tends to be on healing, counseling, therapy if necessary and ideally reconciliation, “sometimes we have to break up to stay healthy in our lives.” She added, “I think in some blood-related families there can be such toxicity, such violence to the spirit that it’s not healthy to be in that relationship.” She also noted that biblical text does not support the idea of staying in a harmful, destructive relationship with anyone for any reason.

I don’t think it’s that complicated. I think genetics means very little. And I think that you should end any relationship that is emotionally unhealthy for you, whether that person is a member of your family or not. I know that’s an easy thing for me to say since I don’t have anyone in my family who is that toxic. But I think you have to be your first priority and the fact that a person is damaging you is not diminished by the fact that you share DNA with them (indeed, it’s often magnified).

Sometimes the decision is made for us, of course. An alarming number of my friends have been disowned by their families because they’re gay or atheist or their partner is the wrong race or religion and the results are often emotionally devastating. But I think that only underscores the importance of placing the emphasis not on shared DNA but on shared values. And many of those friends have built new families that actually care about them.

40 comments

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  1. 1
    badgersdaughter

    Getting rid of toxic relationships in the family is fine if the toxic people allow themselves to be disowned. My brother, a fundamentalist, and his wife look down on me because they have the perfect marriage, house, kids, car, dog, church, and jobs, and I had a more, um, creative past and married a man I met online (shock! consternation! how dare you be happy?). Every time I try to kick those judgmental assholes to the curb because I’m tired of being the designated black sheep, they take it as evidence that I’m selfish and lacking in family feeling. Maddeningly, my husband, despite understanding how I’ve been picked on, also thinks I should make nice with the family. Well, of course he thinks so; he comes from a good, loving, functional family.

  2. 2
    badgersdaughter

    Sorry, hit submit instead of preview…. I’d love nothing better than to be part of my husband’s family, and I try, but they’re all overseas. It’s my stupid family that I can’t stand.

  3. 3
    Liam Deacon

    DNA will always be important. Evolutionary we have an innate propensity to aid the survival and proliferation of individuals who share our genes – this is what The Selfish Gene taught us. Further, closely related family member can have a unique insight into our phycology, because so much of what defines us is innate and they share our genes.

    Of course one should not maintain relationships that are harmful to either party. But, severing ties with family must always be approached with more caution that breaking off a simple friendship. Family members are precious and you will only ever have one family.

  4. 4
    doublereed

    Family members are precious and you will only ever have one family.

    People have multiple families all the time. Not everyone gets to have the most stable life.

    My friends have had family issues, but nothing so severe. Usually they’re settled by “Well we only see them once a year. Any more and there will be issues. Oh they moved closer? Gosh, that’s nice but we’re just so busy all the time…”

  5. 5
    matty1

    I wonder if people are misreading these situations and imagining that estrangement happens because of obsessing over past problems (which is not healthy) rather than recognising the reality that some relationships don’t work now.

    As for the kidney thing, unless there is a requirement for donor and recipient to have been close for x months prior to donation it’s a non-issue. Nothing stops people giving details of their blood relatives to a doctor if they want to and the situation merits it and nothing stops those relatives responding out of compassion. If someone would refuse a kidney to a relative because they hadn’t been in touch the chances are that relationship is such that they would refuse even if they’d been forced to live in the same house all their lives.

  6. 6
    phira

    I’m estranged from my father and have been for a very long time, and I wish people would treat the situation as if it were a divorce. My siblings are pressuring me to invite our father to my upcoming wedding, insisting that I could invite him as “just a friend,” that I’ll look back and regret not inviting him, and that not inviting him would be a loud and clear statement that I was cutting him out of my life (even though I already have cut him out of my life).

    If this were an ex-husband instead of my father, I wouldn’t face these kinds of complaints and pleas. No one would even think, “Hey, she should invite her ex-husband to her wedding!” or, “When you have kids, you’ll regret not introducing them to your ex-husband and letting him have a relationship with them.”

    I shouldn’t have to defend the reasons for my estrangement, nor should I have to accept any sort of rules that say, “Well, here’s what you have to try to fix the relationship, and THEN you can give up on it, although here’s when you have to reconsider.” I resent the notion that simply because my father is related to me, estrangement is a terrible thing, or the notion that my biological family is more important than the families I have chosen (friends, partner, in-laws).

  7. 7
    Modusoperandi

    You know it’s your family because you can’t stand them. That’s what family is.

  8. 8
    Reginald Selkirk

    Liam Deacon #3: Further, closely related family member can have a unique insight into our phycology…

    Phycology is the scientific study of algae…
    I suppose so, but I don’t quite underatand the relevance..

    If you’re Catholic, can you get your family annuled?

  9. 9
    Gregory in Seattle

    “If it’s accepted that we can divorce a spouse, why can’t we divorce a family member without being made to feel guilty over it?”

    In many places in the US, especially those with a strong fundamentalist Christian culture, divorce remains a shameful thing, with partners told to put up with all physical or emotional abuse because “they took a holy vow before God.” And even amiable divorces are free of guilty feelings: there is almost always a feeling of “If I had tried harder…” or “I should have done….” We tend to mourn dying and dead relationships, in much the same way that we mourn other losses. These are why people tend to stay in unhappy, even dangerous relationships, when it would be much better to leave them behind.

    I think it is much the same with regards to blood relations. Social pressure, feelings of personal guilt and an unwillingness to acknowledge that something has become toxic keep us in family relationships that would be best left. Unlike divorce, though, there is little to no support for such separations.

  10. 10
    Nick Gotts

    Evolutionary we have an innate propensity to aid the survival and proliferation of individuals who share our genes – this is what The Selfish Gene taught us. – Liam Deacon

    No, it didn’t; try reading it again. There is very little if any evidence that we can detect how far others share our genes. We do tend to help those we give birth to, tend as infants, or grow up with – and these are (or at least, were for millions of years), in the normal course of events, close relatives.

  11. 11
    Canadian Yankee

    Dan Savage likes to say that the only real power we have over family members (other than your own dependent children of course) is the power to withhold your own presence. When confronted with completely unacceptable behavior, you have to be willing to (a) say that your continued presence in their lives is contingent on them ceasing that behavior and to (b) follow through on that threat/promise if the behavior doesn’t in fact cease.

    In the specific case of coming out as gay to parents or other family members and receiving homophobic abuse in return, he actually advocates a one-year “cooling off” period: don’t take their shit, but don’t cut them off completely either. Say you’re willing to answer polite questions, refer them to useful books and websites, and give them the address of their local PFLAG chapter. But if after one year of polite education, they still can’t stop homophobically badmouthing you to your face, you’re going to cut off contact with them, period.

  12. 12
    Bronze Dog

    There’s a part of me that wants to advocate giving family a chance to reconcile, but I’m not naive enough to think it’s always possible. There are some really nasty people out there, and those who share DNA shouldn’t feel beholden to them. There are some acts and words that simply make the resolution too costly to be worth your time and effort. When that happens, it’s better to sever ties and enjoy life with the people you really care about.

    But it’s not always easy to sever ties. If it were, we wouldn’t need restraining orders.

  13. 13
    Alverant

    I agree in principle, that you should be able to end any toxic relationship. But family is very important to me. There are some members I really don’t care for but if one of them came to me and said, “I need $500 or else I lose my house.” I’d get my check book no questions asked. There’s also one person who I wouldn’t piss on if he were on fire because of something he did I’m not comfortable talking about. But in the years since it’s happen I’ve put it behind me enough so I feel I don’t need to be armed if he’s in the same room as I because I didn’t feel safe.

    I know Modus’s comments are meant to be sarcastic, but this time I think he’s right. Family are the only people that even if you can’t stand them, you still seek their company. If only if it’s a few times a year. And only if it’s not toxic (there’s a difference between not liking Uncle Ray for his quoting Rush Limblah and not liking Uncle Ray for repeatedly saying “certain people” should be exiled to an island then nuked).

    I’ve been lucky in that the toxicity of relationship between my family members has been low. Sure there are some I know better than to bring up certain subjects and a few that if they can’t make Thanksgiving dinner I won’t be upset. But nothing as bad as wanting to say, “If X is there, I’m not.” For those who are at that level for valid reasons, wish you the best no matter what form it takes. (Be it forgiveness or the relation in question alienates everyone else so no one wants to be around them or whatever.)

  14. 14
    Modusoperandi

    Alverant “I know Modus’s comments are meant to be sarcastic…”
    What? I was serious. A friend you hate is no longer a friend. Family you hate is still family. The family I like had to move up to three times zones to get away from the family I don’t, but even so, they’re still there. Watching. Biding their time. Waiting for their moment to pounce. At Christmas dinner, probably, when the Power of Family reaches its peak, and their sheer unending awfulness can only be countered by the warm feeling that they’ll be gone by the 3rd. Also, stuffing. The stuffing helps.

    “…but this time I think he’s right.”
    “This time”? Harrumph!

  15. 15
    Karen Locke

    Adopted-at-birth person here to say that I wasn’t close to my parents because of genetics! My dad was a wonderful person and an excellent parent. My mom was a good person and a reasonably good parent, but she suffered a lot from anxiety and that influenced many of her decisions negatively. One of those decisions was keeping in touch with an absolutely toxic sister. My aunt was probably not an evil person, per se, but suffered from her own childhood trauma and its lasting effects. One of her skills, undoubtedly learned in childhood, was pushing my mother’s buttons. She probably did it unthinkingly. Dad and I encouraged Mom to disconnect from that particular aunt, but she felt a family obligation to stay connected. She would have been far better off to just disconnect.

  16. 16
    magistramarla

    This was part of the reason that we loved living in California – far away from any of our adult children.
    We enjoyed not being drawn into their dramas and being able to do what we wanted when we wanted to do it.
    Now that we are living closer to a couple of them again, we get drawn into their squabbles and we feel obligated to go to the daughter’s house for holiday meals. Since we aren’t especially fond of the gluten-free meals, I usually wind up cooking a meal that we like a day or two later.
    We can’t wait to sell our big house and move on again. Then we can decide when or if we want to be subjected to “family time”.

  17. 17
    frog

    Anyone who reads the news knows there are lots of abusive people in this world.

    I can’t imagine people cut off contact with their parents or siblings for trivial reasons. If someone divorces their parents or siblings, I assume they have a good reason for it.

    I know several people who’ve taken such steps. The most common reason they give is that the abuser refuses to acknowledge what they did. I gotta say, that would make me never want to speak to someone again, either. No one should have to spend time with someone who beat or raped them, or who continues to belittle them. Shared DNA isn’t a free pass to be abusive.

  18. 18
    meg

    I have one sister in law I consider toxic, and would rather cut out. But I have no problem with that brother, (other than he married her) and know that my relationship with their children is already affected by our issues. So I can’t really cut her out. My family is large enough that however that avoiding her is relatively easy.

    I have a girlfriend who I encouraged to reconcile with her father for a while. And to her credit, she did try, as she’d never tried. However, I then saw how he acted at her 21st birthday party. Afterwards, all her close friends and I agreed that no, he wasn’t worth it, nor was he making an effort. If she cut him out, we’d support that decision.

  19. 19
    otrame

    Several thoughts:

    1. George Burns said, “Happiness is a big family….who all live in another state”.

    2. I am very fond of most of my family. I get a lot of pleasure watching my sibling’s kids grow up and have kids of their own. I love sitting around my sister’s place on July 4 and watch all the cousin kids splashing in the little pool that they put up each year and watching all the “cousin” dogs (we had 10 dogs at one such get together) enjoy each other’s company.

    3. That said, I have a sister who I hope to never have to interact with again, even though I send her money every month (she is disabled). We are all very glad she does not attend family get-togethers, though I am quite sure she thinks she is hurting us by denying us her presence.

    4. It would take some very extreme behavior for me to divorce a member of my family. My essential thought is “they are family no matter how much of a little shit they are”. I told my son once that even if he turned out to be a serial rapist/killer, I would still love him. I would turn his ass in and testify at the trial, but I would also visit him in jail every week.

    5. But that is easy to say because, like Ed said, I grew up in a basically healthy family that has become even more healthy as time has gone by (better living through chemistry). I can only imagine what living is a truly toxic family setting would be like. I am incredibly grateful for that and I am truly sorry that so many people have to deal with it.

    6. So, I agree with those that say that if the relationship is truly damaging, then cut off that relationship. Most such problems are the result of mental illness. Maybe someday we’ll be better treating such things and fewer people will be denied the pleasures of a healthy family.

  20. 20
    Abby Normal

    Reginald Selkirk @8

    can you get your family annuled?

    When my parents divorced my mother won sole custody. When she died suddenly a few years later my father ended up adopting me. Yes, I was adopted by my biological father. That turned out to be a bad situation, to put it mildly. By mutual agreement we had the adoption annulled. So, to answer your question, yes.

  21. 21
    Michael Heath

    Ed writes:

    I don’t think it’s that complicated. I think genetics means very little. And I think that you should end any relationship that is emotionally unhealthy for you, whether that person is a member of your family or not.

    It can be complicated. I’ve pretty much ended a relationship with someone in my family because of the abuse I’ve suffered for so many years from this person. But I want to maintain my relationship with others in my family. When you’re the only non-believer amongst all of them, this can be a very difficult to do.

    Ed writes:

    Sometimes the decision is made for us, of course. An alarming number of my friends have been disowned by their families because they’re gay or atheist or their partner is the wrong race or religion and the results are often emotionally devastating.

    Let’s not forget there’s a continuum in play here, so far more suffer than what’s described here. Hopefully we’re all fortunate enough, like I am, to have some family and friends who love others unconditionally. With these people we can be ourselves with no fear or grief. We’re better people because of them. But being disowned isn’t the only other alternative to this preferred environment.

    I’m in lots of meat-world situations where I have to be extremely careful in never stating anything that would be disagreeable to the dominant beliefs of the group (conservative Christians). In this context I rarely talk about myself, ever, amongst relatives, except for benign (boring) topics. I can not engage on the more interesting topics either, because it’s not about learning and adapting. I’m in the group, but not really, instead I’m a second-class citizen in this group whose not allowed to express an opinion or even discuss my interests – even those outside politics and religion. That makes me particularly contemptuous of judges and others who claim it’s OK for children to leave the classroom when the privileged pray or cite the pledge in a public classroom setting. I get doses of that feeling almost every single month.

    For example, one could be in a family gathering with lots of group prayers, discussions about beliefs and politics, all promoted with premises that are predominately false. If I were to speak up and say, “actually – that’s not true”, and present a convincing set of facts; well then I’m the difficult one ruining the mood and making all the others uncomfortable. Even if it’s on one topic where dozens are addressed. That’s something I haven’t done in years, I guess that makes me wiser, but toxic is a good word to describe how it feels and lingers afterwards when do you remain silent.

    In a conservative Christian environment, consistent with their churches, there’s no desire to encourage a free exchange of ideas because conservative Christians maintain their beliefs through avoidance and denial – so a cognitive dissonance threat is energetically and vociferously shouted down with raw emotions that linger for months and in some cases years. And by the way, this is not good for these Christianists either, they suffer emotionally from this as well. It’s the price they pay for the fact they developed into authoritarians who are firmly committed to beliefs and a church that can’t risk being exposed.

  22. 22
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    Further, closely related family member can have a unique insight into our phycology, because so much of what defines us is innate and they share our genes.

    *facepalm*

    If you’re Catholic, can you get your family annuled?

    Err, if you raise your kids Catholic they’re pretty much guaranteed to…

    Oh, ANNULLED. With two n’s, and a u. Never mind.

  23. 23
    Vicki, duly vaccinated tool of the feminist conspiracy

    otrame:

    What if one of the hypothetical rapist/serial killer son’s hypothetical victims was another member of your immediate family? You might still visit them in jail every week, but I hope you wouldn’t pressure other relatives to do the same.

    There really are families out there who want children to not only forgive adult relatives who raped them, but to keep the assaults a secret for the sake of “family harmony.” And preachers, friends, etc. who think victims should “try to reconcile” or “be the bigger person” or “do the Christian thing” of making polite conversation over a turkey dinner with someone who stole their college funds, bullied them, even raped them repeatedly. [If someone physically attacks you, and you get away and tell all your friends not to invite the two of you to the same event and why, rather than arranging for a group of people to beat the attacker up, you are being the more ethical person.]

    No, not everyone who cuts a relative off is dealing with that dysfunctional a situation. But it’s not being done trivially: if you think that someone’s reasons are trivial, it’s a fair bet that either you don’t know the whole story–victims of molestation may not want to identify themselves as such–or that the relationship wasn’t very good even aside from the apparent precipitating incident.

  24. 24
    Kamaka

    phira @ 6

    I’m estranged from my father and have been for a very long time, and I wish people would treat the situation as if it were a divorce. My siblings are pressuring me to invite our father to my upcoming wedding, insisting that I could invite him as “just a friend,” that I’ll look back and regret not inviting him, and that not inviting him would be a loud and clear statement that I was cutting him out of my life (even though I already have cut him out of my life).

    ^This^

    I had more or less forgiven my father the physical abuse he had heaped on me and my 5 siblings because he was a man of his times, (all the families where I grew up hit their kids) and because he knocked it off when I was old enough to stand up to him. I was not his biggest fan, but I put up with his shit because Family.

    Two decades later at a family party at *my home*, he put his hands (copped a feel) on my brother’s wife. The family was afraid to say anything to me at the time for fear I would beat him up. They were wrong. I would have invited the police to my home to have him arrested for assault.

    When later I found out about this and cut him out of my life, never to speak to him again, I ended up having to double down and cut out the family members who insisted I “reconcile” with him. What? I should forgive sexual assault in my home because Dad? I found the insistent *forgivers* nearly as despicable as him and no longer deal with their toxic “family” bullshit. And my life is better, much better, for it. No drama, no toxicity allowed. Phira, stand up to your misguided family members: No, no and hell no…or else! Myself, I have peace of mind for having done so.

    PS Dad died young. The Abuser did his family a huge favor and fell over dead abruptly. The End.

  25. 25
    Al Dente

    I have a sister-in-law who refuses to have anything to do with her parents because of physical and emotional abuse she suffered as a child. My mother keeps telling her she should reconcile with her parents and she’s being selfish by refusing to allow her parents to see their grandchildren. Everyone else in the family has tried to tell Mom to stop bugging SIL. Mom had a good relationship with her parents and her children have a good relationship with her and our father so somehow Mom has the idea that all parents and children could and should have strong relations. This preconception amazes me because otherwise Mom is an intelligent, insightful person. We all have blind spots which logic and evidence won’t shake and I guess that’s her’s.

  26. 26
    Kamaka

    @ 23

    keep… a secret for the sake of “family harmony.” And preachers, friends, etc. who think victims should “try to reconcile” or “be the bigger person” or “do the Christian thing” of making polite conversation over a turkey dinner…

    Yes, Vicky Conspirator, a perfect description of the “insistent forgivers” I despise.

  27. 27
    SallyStrange

    You know it’s your family because you can’t stand them. That’s what family is.

    No, absolutely not. I’ve had my fights with my parents, but when it comes down to it, all of the people in my immediate family (parents, siblings, grandparents) are basically awesome people. I wish people didn’t take it for granted that family life should be so toxic.

    I dunno, I guess I find my cousin annoying, but whatever. She’s not abusive or toxic.

  28. 28
    dingojack

    While I can see the point of ‘divorcing’ a family member…
    + Would you approve of a family ‘divorcing’ a child because they’re gay?
    + Would you approve of children ‘divorcing’ a parent because they have Alzheimer’s?
    + Would you approve of either ‘divorcing’ the other due to mental or physical health issues? *
    How exactly would one determine which are ‘legitimate’ reasons, and which are spurious?
    Does a family (or a family member) have the right to absolve themselves from their responsibilities to that person or group?
    Once that person (say) is cast adrift, who takes up responsibility for them, and why?
    Dingo
    ——–
    * perhaps they could be sent to some ‘school’ deep in the country al la The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby. And you wonder why the libertarian ‘no care, no responsibility’ attitude is mercilessly mocked.

  29. 29
    Thumper: Who Presents Boxes Which Are Not Opened

    How exactly would one determine which are ‘legitimate’ reasons, and which are spurious?

    Is their behaviour causing you persistent physical, mental or emotional harm, and do they persist in said behaviour despite having been made aware of this? If yes, then divorce, in my opinion. Shared DNA is not a good enough reason to endure that.

    That said, like Ed, that is easy for me to say, coming from a family that is relatively healthy.

  30. 30
    democommie

    I had ten brothers and sisters. Now I have seven. Two of the three who died were people I loved but avoided like they were Jehovahs Witnesses or Mormon missionaries.

    They were both toxic as hell, to themselves as well as their families.

    My dad was an alcoholic and abusive. The two siblings who were toxic were also alcoholics and abusive. They were also both parents and spouses and had some terrific coping skills. I loved them but I couldn’t be near them for more than 15 minutes without wanting to grab them and shake them.

    Separate maintenance has been the antidote to their toxicity, not divorce. Now that they’re gone I can still see the kids and grandkids that they were parents to–some of whom are just as screwed up as they were.

  31. 31
    dingojack

    The breeder of tokens opined: “Is their behaviour causing you persistent physical, mental or emotional harm, and do they persist in said behaviour despite having been made aware of this?”
    So if your sibling Is gay and that is causing you ‘persistent physical, mental or emotional harm’? Well then divorce definitely right?
    @@
    Dingo

  32. 32
    Quodlibet

    MIchael Heath @21, your description could have been written about my family, in which I am the non-believer. In their eyes, I am a Bad Person (even though among all my nine siblings, I have the most stable marriage and most stable lifestyle re: job, home, education, etc.)

    DingoJack @28, I see your point, but I would not agree that any of the examples you cite are representative of the sorts of issues under discussion here. Your examples are essentially facts of biology (sexual orientation, tendency to develop Alzheimer’s, mental or physical health), while the “toxic” factors most people have mentioned have been behaviors and attitudes, which are matters of choice (assault, derision, rejection, mental and physical abuse, etc.)

    ——–

    I’ve pretty much divorced most of my family. I’m one of nine siblings. Only two of us are on the left end of the sociopolitical spectrum; I might be the only atheist. One elder sister, despite her high intelligence, has fallen in with the Tea Party and has brainwashed my elderly, increasingly befuddled mother into thinking all sorts of bad things about me, to the point where my mother is extremely wary of me and won’t talk freely with me as she used to. (Among my “sins” are my atheism, left leanings, all my gay friends, my college education, the way we raised our daughter [OMG she has ... facial piercings! devil at work!]. etc etc

    **Trigger for sexual harassment – the entire next paragraph**

    I also “divorced” my husband’s father decades ago because of his persistent, pervasive sexual harassment — unwanted comments on my physical attributes and appearance, forced on me [and others] over and over again despite repeated requests (made in front of other family members) that he stop. He was disgusting. Example: In our family, breastfeeding is the norm, and we all did it in mixed company, though discreetly and while covered. But he made a point of pulling his chair right up to any nursing mother and watching closely in hopes of getting a glimpse. Even with his own adult daughter!!!!!!! I refused to accept this behavior, I called him out on it [oh boy did that cause a ruckus], and I eventually stopped dealing with him altogether. Of course, he blamed ME for causing a family disturbance, and portrayed himself as the victim of my intolerance and Yankee uptightness (he was from Texas). He was without question the most selfish person I have ever known. I was frankly relieved when he died suddenly a few months ago. Good riddance. [As she grew up, my daughter sensed the same bad vibes from him, and instinctively avoided any contact with him, and I never ever left her alone with him, at any age.]

    I feel no “blood” obligation toward people who have deliberately acted to make me unhappy or uncomfortable, or who have chosen to reject me and my family simply because we have different beliefs and politics. We used to all get along when we were younger, but as I grew into adulthood and formed my own views, abandoned religion and embarked on a very different lifestyle, their hostility came out in force.

    And one more thing. Many of those in my biological family would probably refuse to shake hands with, or share a meal with, those of my friends and colleagues who happen to be LGBTQ. I do not want to associate with people like that, and I don’t want them in my home, and I don’t want to go to their homes.

    It is cathartic to write this all down. Thank you.

  33. 33
    dingojack

    How exactly do you know they are ‘matters choice’ as opposed to ‘matters of bigotry’?
    Dingo

  34. 34
    lofgren

    It’s nobody’s business who you have a relationship with and why. If you want to stop associating with your family, that’s your choice, whether it’s because the relationship is toxic or for any other reason. That’s between you and the other person and everybody else can just shut the hell up about it.

    Which doesn’t mean I don’t think some of your reasons might be stupid. But just because I think your reasons are stupid doesn’t mean you have to agree with me.

  35. 35
    democommie

    “So if your sibling Is gay and that is causing you ‘persistent physical, mental or emotional harm’? Well then divorce definitely right?”

    Absolutley. If you’re that fucked up, I wouldn’t want me or any one I care about to spend any time with you. That you would choose to punish your own family by keeping them from my company would be completely on you. I avoid assholes of all sorts, family or not–if they really want to get in my face? Well, I think I can deal with that in a way that will likely prevent having to do it twice,

  36. 36
    dingojack

    So if sibling ‘A’ finds sibling “B” emotionally distressing. But sibling ‘C’ can stand both her siblings, even though sibling ‘A’ has a court order stating that sibling ‘B’ can’t come within 250 yards of them, and sibling ”B’ has a court order saying sibling ‘A; can’t come within 500 yards of them, whose rights prevail, pray tell?
    And how does Thanksgiving work, exactly?*
    Dingo
    ———
    * Plus who decides exactly the criterion of ”emotional or physical distress’ exactly, how do they decide this, what are the guidelines for making this decision? The testimony of family members, Family and Community Services, The police? Who?

  37. 37
    matty1

    @36 Sibling C has no legal right to spend time with A or B, let alone both together. She would just have to accept meeting them separately.

    As for the criteria, if we are talking legal action I’m pretty sure there are already established standards for when you can get a restraining order. If not then assuming we are talking about adults able to care for themselves choosing not to spend time with other adults who are able to care for themselves the answer is you can cut off contact any time for any reason.

    You do have a point with your examples of physical and mental illness if the family members have previously been close enough that there was a reasonable expectation they would care for each other in those circumstances. If you’ve always said “I’ll be there for you” and leave because they called in that promise then yes you are a bit of a Cheney*. But if a sister you haven’t seen in years shows up out of the blue demanding support you are as entitled to say no as any other former friend.

  38. 38
    matty1

    Whoops forgot the footnote
    *I’m experimenting with using the names of despicable people as insults, a lot of existing ones seem to have various problems so I thought it would be an interesting way to go.

  39. 39
    democommie

    @38:

    I tried for a little while, years ago, to use ONE word, as in:

    “Smurf you, you mothersmurfing, smurfsucking, son-of-a-smurf.”

    It was too much trouble.

  40. 40
    equisetum

    What lofgren@34 said.
    Also here.

    The reason I cut ties to my whole family is that I was tired of trying to explain that my mother’s defense of a child molester was victim-blaming and, in itself, abuse. That and the fact that I (we) never developed normal familial ties anyway. That made it easy.

    frog@17:

    I can’t imagine people cut off contact with their parents or siblings for trivial reasons. If someone divorces their parents or siblings, I assume they have a good reason for it.
    I know several people who’ve taken such steps. The most common reason they give is that the abuser refuses to acknowledge what they did.

    I would have forgiven my mother if she had ever asked for forgiveness, if she had ever admitted that what she did was wrong. I gave her a chance a few years before she died, and she just continued with victim blaming and denial.

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