Monday, October 31, 2005

Adults Without Parents

I am referring specifically to those who have parents who never should have had the title of “parent,” whether those parents are alive or dead; not those who have had wonderful parents who passed away. Though the two situations probably share some similar frustrations….I can only speak to the first situation. I don’t know how many people come from this situation, but it is something that I’ve never touched on. Partially because it is so personal, and for many years, has been such a raw topic. However, I realized this past month or so how many of us feel as though we are alone, when in reality, there are more people than we think who come from this situation. Some of us live normal lives. Some go crazy. Other go to prison. Some of us have been alone on Christmas, Easter, and Thanksgiving. We have gone birthdays without ever receiving a card in the mail. Most of us try to avoid conversations about our families. Some of us lie and say they are dead. Some of us lie and say they are great. Some of us create elaborate fabrications of our childhood….others refuse to talk about it. Some of us are honest about it, and watch the glaze of pity – and sometimes blame – slide across the eyes of those who cannot understand. Those of us that make up stories to make ourselves more socially acceptable….we watch as our confidant smiles in what they think is shared warmth of family memories, or laugh in what they think is shared frustrations with family idiosyncrasies. Suddenly we hate the lie, and we want to scream the truth, so that our pain and longing is not silent….as though giving it a voice will somehow validate those feelings of loss, rejection, and not being wanted. We don’t, though, and the silence envelops us. There is a lot of guilt associated with the parentless adult. Some of that relates to the fear that had you been a better child, a better baby, your parents would have loved you more. If you had been more obedient teenager, more likeable, more like them, perhaps they would have wanted you more. Some of this guilt also relates to God. Was there something wrong with you that you couldn’t have had at least one parent that was decent? One parent that cared more for you than for themselves….more for you than for their addiction….more for you than anyone else who came into their lives. Did God know something about you that even you hadn’t figured out yet? A parent that hurts their child – and I don’t mean the mistakes everyone makes as a parent – but those that do long-term damage without much concern over it, is quite possibly one of the hardest things to understand for those of us who couldn’t imagine doing such a thing. Most parents want the best for their children. They would give up their lives to keep their children from feeling pain. Unfortunately, some parents would give up their children to keep themselves from feeling pain. It is a cruel reality to face that you will never have the “Hallmark Christmas.” There will never be holiday dinners at mom’s house, no shared family secrets that you snicker over when some banal phrase is uttered. There is not a long Christmas gift list, or birthdays to worry over, or built-in guests for your graduations, weddings, or funeral. There is no one who “has to take you in.” You must rely on friends and social services when you are down and out. You must ask people who don’t know your first-uttered word to take care of your children. I recently had reason to come face to face with what I was willing to sacrifice in order to be….a little more like everyone else. Was I willing to give up the safety of being with those who do not abuse me? Was I willing to risk the sanity I have built over the years, on someone who worked hard at destroying it? How much of that life of fear and rejection was I willing to re-shoulder, in order to have a parent to speak of? It was only then, in the midst of my questioning, that I realized that while I will never have the dream of shared family holidays and someone who always has room for me, I have enough people in my life who fill those roles when they are called up to do so. I have women who have been more of a mother to me than mine ever was, and men who have helped to be a father to me as best they could. These people may or may not still be in my life, but along the way, they helped fill in the gap until I reached a point where I could accept that what I wanted was unrealistic. That realization was hard earned, but now, I can finally let go of those painful prayers. My “dream” family is not to be. It never will be. But someone else’s family does take me in, does give me support, does give me love, and in exchange, I give them the loyalty and love and support they deserve. Perhaps that is even a greater gift than I realized. These people who are not related to me, do not have to welcome me – they have chosen to. They are not required to….they want to. May those of you who understand these feelings find as many blessings in your loss as I have.