Father’s Day is upon us. This holiday is meant to be happy and spent remembering and recognizing fathers and everything they do for their children. But for people without a father, or with strained relationships with theirs, the holiday can end up being a painful reminder of their situation.
Any family holiday, birthday, or anniversary can be hard and it’s important to be mindful of potential triggers and how to navigate these difficult days. Most importantly, know you’re not alone. It can feel really lonely being cut off from or missing a family member, and it’s worse when everyone around you seems to have a perfect happy family. But of course, no one posts on Facebook about strained family relationships on Father’s Day. And you truly aren’t alone. There are so many other people in your situation, and although that doesn’t make the situation any less painful, it reminds us that our situation is not totally unique and we have people who can relate to us.
And this isn’t bullshit, because I am in this situation.
It’s not my father for me, though, at least not primarily. No, it’s my mother. To say I have a strained relationship with my mother would be quite the understatement. Actually, to say we have a relationship at all wouldn’t be accurate. Mothers are supposed to be caretakers. They’re supposed to be someone a child can turn to no matter what. They are supposed to offer their unconditional love to their children. Unfortunately, that’s not how it works out for everyone. My mother was none of the above. She was abusive and dysfunctional and oblivious, and because of that, I lost my adolescence to depression and an eating disorder. I spent my younger years replaying the things my mother would tell me at night and cry on the bus ride home because I wish I could have stayed at school forever.
By the age of 14, I had seen enough of life and was horribly anorexic and suicidal. At 16, I moved out of my mother’s house and changed high schools during my senior year and got help. Now, at 20 years old, I have no relationship with my mother. We don’t talk, we rarely see each other. My mental health greatly improved when I moved out and I’m four years in recovery. Cutting my mother off was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made...and yet, it’s not always easy.
This blog is for everyone with strained/nonexistent relationships with their families, as well as people who are grieving for family members lost. You should know you’re not alone, as much as it may feel like it sometimes. I know how incredibly hard and taxing it can be when a family member, someone supposed to be there for you, is instead hurting you. I wish I had realized sooner that what I went through was never a reflection on me. I wish I had the strength to leave sooner. But I was a child, and I did the best I could. You are not to blame for any abuse or neglect from a family member. You have to do what’s best for you and what feels safe for you. You know your own situation better than anyone else. Trust yourself.
When I decided I wanted to leave my mother’s house and cut her off, I faced resistance. Resistance from my mother, from therapists, and from other people I was in treatment with. I think people thought that I was selfish, that I was being impulsive. I was, in their eyes, making a drastic decision I would live to regret. It’s hard for people to imagine a child cutting a mother off entirely.
I imagine people felt sorry for her, even though she had abused and neglected me for years. It made me feel a little gaslighted at the time, to finally open up about the abuse and have people questioning my decisions. I always thought about what it would have been like if instead of my mother I was in an abusive relationship. I imagine it would have been a lot easier for people to understand cutting off an abusive partner. But this was my mother and was for different for reasons I still don’t understand.
I’m here to tell you that you never should feel bad for doing what’s best for your mental health. I’m never going to question someone who wants to escape from an abuser. You deserve to be happy and healthy and screw what anyone else tells you. You do not need to feel sympathy for the person who abused you. If cutting off toxic/abusive family members is considered selfish, then fuck it, be selfish. I’ve never once regretted my decision or faltered even for a moment. I knew in my soul what I needed to get better and move on and I did that.
I can’t speak on any experience of grieving a family member who is absent or who has passed, and I’m lucky in that regard. What I can say to that is that I’ve known multiple people who have lost family members, either because they walked out or they died. I can’t begin to understand the grief and pain associated with this. I can’t speak to this and I don’t think it would be fair of me to pretend I could because I haven’t lived it.
Reasons aside, if this holiday is hard for you, please remember there are other people in your situation and you are never alone. Surround yourself with your support system and get extra love if you need it. Please take care of yourself above everything else and don’t put yourself in triggering situations for the sake of other people’s sensibilities. Let yourself feel your feelings. Grieve, cry, be angry. Whatever you need. Remember that your family is not just the people you share blood with, but the friends and loved ones you meet along the way.