When I was little, I wanted to grow up and get married and be a mommy. I imagined I would live near my parents and we’d all be one big happy family. I saw my older cousins living at home in their early working years, moving out only when they got married. But my parents were big on education and work, and I never doubted I’d have a career. I had grand sense of progress, that each generation would “accomplish” more than the previous one, or live a comfortable life earlier.
It was an idyllic vision and one that only appeared in my parents’ lifetime. Before that, my grandmother had brothers and sisters who left home to work in mills or “in service” and because of transportation and little time off, never saw home again. After his mother’s death, my great-grandfather worked for and lived with another family, which caused him to lose his first language and even his name. Many family members on both sides were subsistence farmers, eking out a living through homesteading, supplemented by digging clams, fishing, selling mittens or selling blueberries. Paid work was mostly seasonal – logging or landscaping.
So when my parents got office jobs and bought their own house, they were deemed to be living the high life: no seasonal, variable income! No manual labour! Their kids could go on to higher education and have access to professional careers, so their lives would be even easier.
My parents had to deal with a lot of “family life” changes that they didn’t expect. In the old days, some of the big shocks would have been your son choosing not to go into the family business, your teenage daughter getting pregnant, or a family member taking a job transfer across the country.
Among their 3 kids, my very religious parents had to face all of them leaving the church, one child moving away for 15 years (then coming back), all 3 kids “living in sin” at various times, 3 divorces (2 of them mine), 2 children born “out of wedlock,” raising a grandchild with ADHD, and finding out 2 of their grandchildren are gay, one likely transgender.
Have they been gracious about it? No. They’ve kicked and screamed and lectured and nagged. But reality set in each time, and they’ve dealt with it, saying less and less with each new development, realizing how little they have the power to change. Eventually my mom just said that she’d like to see us all happy. And they have not disowned anyone!
Finally I “got it.” My parents expected continuity from their ancestors’ lives to theirs to ours; through religion and values and shared activities and sheer proximity. And they didn’t really get it because we broke the threads.
Lately 3 of my cousins’ children have had weddings and had babies, and I am realizing just how disconnected my parents are from that culture: having children, watching them grow up and get married and have children themselves, followed by your grandchildren having children. And all of them in stable two-parent, opposite-sex parent families, how about that!
My life barely fits into that scheme: remarried for 3 years, formerly a single parent for 12 years, to one LGB/Trans kid who, so far, swears by the single life. I wouldn’t say that my life has turned out differently than I expected – I never had it mapped out. I’m super glad I got to be a mommy, though. And I made some fine choices with my education and career…one area where my judgment was less clouded.
It’s a bit scary to step outside the culture you were raised in. In my case it was baby steps. For my kid, a giant leap into queer culture. On one hand, you have rebelled against the past and you reject all the hypocrisy you found there. On the other, that leaves you to create your own future without the guidance and support of your elders. So what do you want, really? Ultimately, you want your parents and grandparents to know you as an individual, to respect your choices, and to love you unconditionally.
So for my mom to say she just wants us kids to be happy is pretty great.
But would my parents celebrate their (other) gay grandkid’s wedding? Not so sure. They’d get used to it after the fact. Ya know, sometimes broken threads can be re-tied. Tentatively. Begrudgingly, even. But somewhere down the road, way later, it doesn’t matter how you got there, only that you’re there.
And sometimes life is like that.
Interesting post and great title. This sentence particularly jumped out at me: “My parents expected continuity from their ancestors’ lives to theirs to ours; through religion and values and shared activities and sheer proximity. And they didn’t really get it because we broke the threads.” <—– I guess this is common in many families, especially ones with oppressive/rigid/harmful values, which young minds and Spirits can't wait to break free from. The way I see it, if values and customs/traditions and other important knowledges within families were healthy, valuable, and created a genuinely Good Life for all family members (and broader society), then I don't think people would be so itching to fly the nest and sever such important threads.
My mom broke the thread from her family and I broke my thread from my mom (there was not much from my upbringing I liked or wanted to carry forward). These days I am in the process of understanding the emotional impact of all this thread-breaking — the confusion that comes from losing so much knowledge that is passed through generations, and the long road it will be to (re)learn life as I want to be living it.
My family is Eastern European and I was the last one born there — I was born in Russia, mom and dad split shortly after, and before I was 1 year old, she moved with me to Israel at the urging of her mother who told her to go on and get a better life for herself, that there was nothing in Russia for her, etc. A few years into living as a single mother in Israel, she met my stepfather, also Russian but living in Calgary, and so they married and he immigrated us to Canada, and so began my westernization process in a foreign land where we had no family other than the 3 of us(4 when my sister came along when I was 8 yrs old). I'm sure my grandmother meant well when she advised my mom to leave Russia — she was probably thinking about financial security and "opportunities", etc…..
The price paid of severing family threads is a steep one that I am still trying to figure out the ramifications of, and of course, what to do about it. I don't know how much I can learn about my family history because my only source of info is my mom, and getting this kind of info from her is a slow and complicated process. Plus I'm not that thrilled about the Russian culture as it stands today; I want to know about my TRIBAL roots, the kind of clan I was born into, what they stood for, how they lived, etc., which I can't imagine learning in any accurate way given the gaps of info-sources in my family and how far removed we are from that way and time of living.
I recently read a wonderful essay by the late Paula Allen Gunn which deeply resonates with me, especially the part where she says "the root of oppression is loss of memory." I really liked how she explained:
"The American idea that the best and the brightest should willingly reject and repudiate their origins leads to an allied idea—that history, like everything in the past, is of little value and should be forgotten as quickly as possible. This all too often causes us to reinvent the wheel continually. We find ourselves discovering our collective pasts over and over, having to retake ground already covered by women in the preceding decades and centuries. The Native American view, which highly values maintenance of traditional customs, values, and perspectives, might result in slower societal change and in quite a bit less social upheaval, but it has the advantage of providing a solid sense of identity and lowered levels of psychological and interpersonal conflict." — the entire essay is excellent, if you're interested, you can see it here: http://www.historyisaweapon.com/defcon1/allenredrootsofwhitefeminism.html
Sorry for the novel I wrote here! I hope some of it was of interest to you and that I didn't "derail" too far off of your article! Interested in your thoughts about any of this, if any of it interests you that is! 🙂
I’m so glad you commented – I have thought deeply about these things, and you articulated them so well! You are so right about “breaking threads” when we can’t find value in our upbringing and we want to stitch a new path. But if everyone does so, there is little continuity or connectedness. I was discussing this with Link on their recent visit home – that my generation was probably the last in which most women wanted to grow up, get married and become mothers. Over half of all households in Canada now are not families with children – they are singles, couples, room mates, etc. The “family” way of life is now a minority. Proactive people are more invested in creating community (friends, a community of interest, etc) but it takes will to do that, and lots of people remain isolated. I can only hope that intentional communities will emerge and that most people won’t be self-centred all the time!
I will check out the article, thanks!
Thank you so much, I’m glad my writing made some sense and I’m so glad to hear you think deeply about these things too, sounds like we have lots to talk about! I agree, there is MUCH isolation in the colonist culture (I volunteer as a phone crisis counsellor at a Distress Center and isolation is one of the biggest issues amongst the callers). I didn’t know those stats re. over half of households are childfree/childless, though I’m not surprised because it seems harder and harder to rear a family. Even families are isolated, like mine was; the “nuclear” family is an isolated one by virtue of its makeup — it feels unnatural and unhealthy and makes life unnecessarily more difficult, like life isn’t hard enough! Oy, so much to undo and re-do…..and so much to learn to make it all Right….
Continuity and connectedness, I like that a lot and appreciate their importance the older I get. It sure does take will, and energy, and time, and ability (all things that vastly differ between people), to create intentional communities. I feel like my own energy and will and ability are tapped out just from making it through the work day and work weeks! Plus my partner is ill & disabled so our life is and needs to be very low key; all this makes Change that much harder. I have many Big Dreams and Plans around social justice and living a tribal, sustainable life, but I have many small, day to day things I am working on getting a better handle on first.
Self-centeredness — oh yeah, if this single thing were eliminated from the human race, wow, what radical GOOD things would sprout!