Keyhole Compassion in Family Estrangement
“You know, I’m sure your dad would be a great resource for some of these questions.” My heart drops. We’ve known john and his family through our church for years. They are kind people; generous, and thoughtful. I’m in the process of buying my first home, and John’s been talking me through the process which is a relief because I don’t the first thing about buying a home. He knows there’s family conflict, but what extent; I don’t know. His words are well intended, but It’s moments like these that I feel defeated.
Anyone who’s been estranged from their family, particularly from their parents, can attest to it being a terrifying and traumatic experience. Words don’t describe the agony that comes with being faced with two options: play along or go away. Adding insult to injury, this choice only after months, years, even decades, of trying desperately to find a working resolution and meet in the middle.
I can gloss over the his suggestion, but that will certainly guarantee more like it going forward. My words must be chosen carefully as to not play into any narrative or stereotypes baptized by parent/child conflict. But What can I say? “They don’t speak to me?”, “I haven’t seen them in two years?”, “He stopped talking to me two years ago, and now exploits our fractured relationship for sympathy and attention from friends and family?”, “He may be saying the right thing, but his actions don’t match and the words are likely more for you and to make you comfortable than they were for me.” I’d love to say any and all of these things, but all roads lead to them being uncomfortable and I being reminded of the agony that comes with being ostracized for refusing to play my assigned role in someone else’s narrative in favor of being authentic self.
The reality is; We can’t have this conversation because as a parent and father, well meaning men like John don’t identify with us. His solid relationship with his own children makes even hearing our story feel like his worst nightmare coming to life in front of him. While he can listen to and sympathize with estranged parents and their experience, ours is intolerable so we are. silenced; never asked, the subject is changed, the conversation is shut down. This creates a prison of secrecy and silence, saddling us with the shame and alienation of those who victimized us to begin with…and it’s is done so those around us can be comfortable. This is not an uncommon response nor is their usual well meaning solution: bring the family back together. Instead of acknowledging that while my experience has nothing to do with them personally, or offering condolences for a painful situation; They opt instead to serve us back to the family on a silver platter citing to them personal information told in confidence. This solution affords those family’s the opportunity to posture themselves as insightful and forgiving, lending itself to the belief an objection on our part is unwarranted. The cycle of exploitation continues because no one can bear the idea that parents are anything but loving…..even when it’s staring them in the face telling them it’s happening.
Painful as it’s been, the experience has garnered a new level of respect, empathy, and understanding for those who struggle with conforming to the “social norms” of others and a desire to live their truth; balancing the comfort of others while honoring yourself; showing compassion, while not tolerating disrespect. Hats off to you, folks. Do you!