Is it possible to “divorce” your own relatives from your life?
I’m a gay man in my 40’s whose father passed away 20 years ago. I came out to him years prior. He was very accepting and supportive, though I’d been the most scared of telling him.
He reminded me that I was still his son and he loved me no matter what.
Fast forward 20 years and I’ve learned that my extended family, mostly my uncles (my father’s brothers) have been less than supportive, despite falsely showing that they were to my face and on social media.
I learned of the hurtful things being said about me from a then-teenage cousin who’d innocently asked, “How did you come out to your parents?”
I told her that it was a scary moment but very positive as both parents were very supportive and tried their best to understand and accept it.
She was very surprised and revealed that my uncles and aunts had been talking about how my father would never accept who I was if he saw what I’d become... which was odd to me because they weren’t aware of my coming-out story.
Naturally I was hurt and very angry that these people had decided to change my narrative to fit theirs and also say things about my father, particularly now that he isn’t alive to defend himself.
It's been a few years since and my anger’s subsided but never forgotten. They never apologized and I know it’ll never happen. I’ve decided to be cordial when I eventually see them at family gatherings.
But I’m opting out of any kind of relationship with them, and basically “divorced” them. I feel that relatives who aren’t cheering for me aren’t people I need or want in my life.
The issue is my mom. When this all came to light, she was disappointed in her in-laws and very protective of me. She’s often said, “there’s no room for homophobia in my house.”
She also still harbours resentment towards my “ex-uncles,” and periodically raises it only to get riled up.
We were recently told of my cousin’s engagement and Mom immediately said, “I’m not going to the wedding.”
Though I’m thankful for her loyalty, I find that she’s making it all about her, when it was me those ex-relatives had talked about.
The thought of going to this wedding and having to lie to my family about why Mom’s not there gives me anxiety. She’s quite stubborn and can be petty. I don’t know if it’s even worth it to try and convince her to attend because her letting go seems impossible.
Confused Gay Son
Never lose sight of the love, emotional support, and understanding your parents showed from when you came out to them, and until now, with your mother’s fierce loyalty to you.
They both soared beyond the prejudices of their era, including the nastiness of your father’s brothers.
Now, you’re showing inherited wisdom in having decided to attend your cousin’s wedding.
But what’s this about not understanding your Mom’s resistance? Sorry, but whether this decision is “about” you or her, misses the point of how hurt she was and still is, for her son. Especially as she’s on her own without your late-father’s equally enlightened backing.
It’s your turn to support her. Tell her you’ll both show them all what family really means (even after a “divorce.”) Stay gracious at the event, and proudly accompany your Mom.
FEEDBACK Regarding letter-writers who complain about children/teens not expressing thanks after something’s been done/gifted for them:
Reader – “Here’s how we handled this in our family. As soon as our children were “verbal,” whenever they forgot to say “Thank you” to either my husband or me, we had a plan!
“We said to them, pointedly, “You’re welcome.” This was a “prompt” they heard repeatedly as they grew up, and they began to say “Thank you” early on, without our little reminder.
“Our “kids” are now in their 30’s and 40’s and we overhear them using this same technique with their own children.
“This also worked with us saying “I love you” each night before bed, and at the end of phone conversations. Now, they have the same habit, saying that to their children.
“However, my husband and I also modeled writing “thank-you” notes but, unfortunately, our kids grew up thinking that an email or text sufficed.”
Tip of the day:
A parent’s ongoing love/support for a child deserves equal support when the aging parent needs it.