Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Family Fallout

My family. They've been trying their best to be supportive of my mom since they found out that my step-dad is leaving her, but it sometimes seems to me that they're doing more harm than good.

Remember how my step-dad broke up with my mom via a voice mail message? Here's how my mom broke the news to me and my family.

It's a Friday night. My step-dad is out of town on a getaway with his girlfriend. My mom has told him that he has to make up his mind and let her know what his intentions are a.s.a.p., because she's not willing to wait around like a hopeful fool while he explores his new relationship. He has to make a decision, and then live with it.

My mom has invited her parents, myself, and my aunt over for dinner in order to have some company.

I am the last to arrive. Everyone is sitting in the living room, making polite conversation, obviously avoiding the subject of my step-dad. My mom calls me into the kitchen. She seems agitated. She tells me that there's a message on the phone that I have to listen to, and then she wants me to erase it so that she never has to hear it again.

Figuring that it's just another one of my step-dad's regular insensitivities, I get into their voice mail system, and listen to the message. What I hear is my step-dad telling my mother that he's decided to leave her for the other woman. He says that he loves her, but he loves the other woman more. I keep myself very still as I listen, because the family has started to gravitate into the kitchen. I can see their curious heads poking through the doorway, watching my mom wring her hands and asking each other "What's wrong? What's happening?"

I'm shocked and also confused. I'm not sure if my mom wants to tell the family now, or just continue with the dinner as though nothing's wrong. I can't guess at what internal forces are motivating her, or what compelled her to have me listen to this message, which is now burned into my memory banks forever.

(Upon reflection I do understand; she wanted a witness to the crime. I wish I'd never heard it. I wish I didn't have to be the witness. And yet, I'm glad that I was able to be there and be strong for her.)

Not wanting to make any assumptions, I delete the message and say nothing to the family members who are clustering around nervously. A few moments pass, and when my mom doesn't give me any cues, I join the faltering conversation about the price of gas. A few beats later, my mom turns to me and says quietly "Please I need a hug." Then she all but falls into my arms.

The family is all looking at me for an explanation. I ask her "Do you want them to know now?" She says "You tell them." So, with my mother in my arms, her back to the gathered, anxious faces, I break the news to them.

Immediately, they all start talking at once. Their voices swarm and overlap. My mom retreats to the motions of getting dinner out of the oven.

My grandfather is monologuing about how my step-dad is just a hedonist, and that any man worth his salt should agonize about living his life properly until the day that he dies. My aunt and grandmother are tag-teaming, telling my mom that we should throw all my step-dad's stuff out onto the lawn right now, and she should kick him in the balls, etc. I also hear them both agree that I should reject him as a dad and never speak to him again.

It didn't occur to them that maybe they should shut up and LISTEN to my mom. No one asked her how she was feeling, or what she felt ready to do. No one expressed sympathy, or held her hand. They just freaked out.

In the time that has passed since the news sank in, my family has not changed their approach. They have not become more sensitive. They have their agenda for what should happen next, and whether they are delivering the message with passive aggression or overt aggression, they are still not listening to my mom. They're not listening to me either, for that matter.

I'm now in a situation, for the second time in my life, where they want me to reject a father to prove my loyalty to them. If I don't cut him off completely, they'll see it as a betrayal. And I'm not planning to cut him off, for many reasons, some of which are financial.

I don't have a tidy wrap-up for this story. It's an ongoing drama. It's too bad, because I know that my family means well, and that they're trying their best. I don't want this to tear us all apart.


Warped Mind of Ron said...

I'm not sure how long they've had to digest things. Perhaps the shock will wear off and they will start talking with you mom and you instead of at you. You need to make your own choices in life and you should never let others tell you what you should feel. Take care.

Karen said...

I totally know what you mean. Whenever there is a problem in life or in my family and I turn to my dad - he goes starts plannning for battle. He plots out revenge and solutions and how things will be 6 years from now. But all I normally need is for him to listen to me and be understanding.

It is so frustating and it happens everytime! Someday I will learn my lesson and not tell him my problems.

Chelsea Talks Smack said...

I understand this is tough.....but family always jsut wants whats best and somtimes you just want them to listen, but theyre ready to fight. As long as you're there thats the most important thing

jameil1922 said...

It probably won't tear y'all apart. At least I hope not, but some people just need drama. Maybe for now you just block their unnecessary noise out of your head. That's what I'd do.

Sparkling Red said...

Warped Mind of Ron: It probably will get a little better. Although that side of my family is notorious for being opinionated. It'll be better once the initial excitement has worn off.

Karen: That sounds frustrating. Too bad it's always the same. I know how it is - in between incidents it's easy to forget, and build up new hope that maybe next time will be different.

Chelsea Talks Smack: Yeah, even with all the craziness it's still better than my mom having to go through it all alone.

Jameil: Oh yes, my mom's family is all about the drama. I have barely spoken to any of them since that crazy night. I think I'll keep my distance for a few more weeks.

R.E.H. said...

That sucks.

First of all. I felt that your mother wanted you to break the news instead of her, and that is why she asked you to listen to the voice message.

Second. The reaction of the other family members is a pretty bad one. They should focus more on her feelings than the anger they have towards your step-dad. But, I guess, anger is an emotion easier to share than that of sympathy.

You take care now.

The Ex said...

The reaction of your family is totally normal. They think they're being supportive by talking shit about your stepdad. The truth is that you love him and he's your dad. You'll have to choose to do the right thing for you no matter what they say about it.

Jenski said...

I would have been next in line to give your mom a great big hug. So I'll just send hug thoughts her way and yours.

It sounds like your family responded how they know to respond and I am sure they think their suggestions are the best way right now. I hope after some time they will recognize that you and your mom are old enough to figure out what is best for you, no matter the reasons.

Sparkling Red said...

R.E.H.: Yup, you got it 100%. Maybe you can give some listening lessons to my family. ;-)

The Ex: Yes! They really do think that hating on him is supportive. I can understand why they feel that way. That doesn't make it right.

Jenski: Aw, thanks! :-) I'll let my mom know that hugs are coming her way. I read her all the comments from the "It's Official" post and she said that that made her feel better. (I shall be rather more selective this time around!)

Aurora said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nicole said...

It's a mystery to me why so many people these days simply are unable to listen and be a bit more sensitive :(

Hugs to both of you!

Sparkling Red said...

Nicole: Thank you!