Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Can't Choose Your Family

We've all said it, you can't choose your family.  Oh that you could ... day dream over!

We say it when our family does something we don't like, or we feel the need to defend our relationship with this family member.

But sometimes it's more serious.

Each of my parents have a brother.  My dad and his brother are ridiculously close.  I mean they talk multiple times a day.  They are very involved in each others life.  When I got engaged, my uncle was furious my dad hadn't told him ahead of time.  There is also a 12 year age difference and their biological dad died when my dad was 2 so I am sure that has a role in their relationship.  From time to time there are downsides but overall, I love seeing my dad with such a close relationship to his brother.

Now contrast that with my mom.

She doesn't talk to her brother.  At all.  When my mom's parents were alive, there was a bridge.  My uncle was somewhat involved in our lives because my grandparents involved him.  But they have since died.

My mother once asked her brother why he hated her so much.  His response was that their parents had treated her better than him.  (Now to be fair, I cannot remember if I heard him say this over the phone or if she told me he said this. This distinction would only matter as to credibility. )

As a result, my mother and uncle have no relationship.  A few years ago, I sent my uncle and aunt an email saying hi and trying to build a bridge.  My parents knew what I was doing, weren't thrilled but didn't try to stop me.  After a handful of emails back and forth, I was going to meet my aunt and uncle for lunch near my job.  This was only a few weeks before grad school started and my aunt was a high school teacher so she was going back to work as well.  We emailed back and forth for location and time. 

I went.  And I remember thinking wouldn't it be ironic if after all this I was stood up.  Well ... I was.  They never showed.

Now when I got back to the office, I sent them an email. My aunt claimed that my latest email confirming lunch had gotten sent to her spam folder (even though previous emails went through).  I had tried calling her cell while at lunch (I didn't have my uncle's number) and it kept going to voicemail.

My aunt apologized.  I tried to believe her and understand.  But school was about to start for both of us so we weren't going to be able to reschedule for a few weeks.  She promised to send me an email to set up a time.

That was August 2005.

When D and I got engaged I went back and forth on whether to invite this uncle/aunt to my wedding.  My position is they are family. 

But D and I decided we would leave the decision up to my mom.  And we did.  And she said she'd feel more comfortable if he wasn't there.  So we didn't invite him.

(Don't laugh) in watching Real Housewives of NJ lately with family strife, it makes me sad that I have zero relationship with that uncle.  I have a very small family and two people missing is noticable.

Last night I toyed around with the idea of contacting him.  Or giving my information to a mutual Aunt (my great aunt, my uncle's aunt) who still speaks to both of our sides and telling her to tell him if he wants to get in touch, to use my email.

How much would this hurt my parents? And am I brave enough to do this?  And do I even want to?

My uncle and I were never close, unfortunately.  And we do have some personality and political differences.  But he is family.  Is that enough?  You can't choose your family...

What do you think I should do?


  1. Ok, I have to say you're not the first person (including myself) who has said Real Housewives of NJ has reminded them of a family issue. I have some things going on with my own brother and it was hard to watch the pain of those two. I mean, they're both batcrap crazy, but the fact that such small things and such misunderstandings could lead to a previously close sibling being totally alienated.

    Anyway, to your situation, you need to decide what you want out of the relationship. I have estranged relatives, but I feel like I've tried to make inroads and it hasn't worked. You CERTAINLY tried and at some point, hurting your mom (who I assume is very much in your life) over people who have rebuffed you may cause other problems. But ultimately, you need to think what's best for you, and establish expectations.

  2. Part of me wants to say "don't bother" because they've already shown you that they aren't gung-ho to form a relationship with you. But that aside, my concerns would be that you get your hopes up and are let down again. Do you really want to bother with people who couldn't bother to hold their lunch date with you?

    Family isn't always about the people you're related to. There's a lot more involved. If it were me, I probably wouldn't consider them family at this point. But . . . whatever you decide, I wish you the best. :)

  3. This is such a sticky subject. I know that you're family because you're related, but I believe that there is more to the definition of family than just genetics. I have a very similar situation unfolding with my family that I've been trying to work out in my head. If you need to talk, I'm here!!

  4. Tough situation! I am tempted to say "forget it," but my family is a lot the same way and there's a part of me that will never let go of the idea of having "family." I've developed a relationship with one of my mom's sisters (that she no longer speaks to), and while I sometimes appreciate it and feel like family is family, it's also a lot of work. And to be honest, I sometimes wonder if it's worth the effort. On top of that, I always tiptoe around the subject of her with my mom because I know she doesn't really want to hear about it.

    Anyway, whatever you decide to do: good luck!

  5. I wish you could choose your family! That would be nice. SIGH.

    With my family- I don't feel qualified to give any advice about this!

  6. It sounds like you won't feel settled unless you try to mend this. Some people can walk away and be okay with that. Others need for relationships to work. I've done both. Great post!

  7. I would contact him because, I think you are someone he would benefit from knowing, but he may not give you the chance.

  8. I started emailing my biological Uncle several months ago and have gotten very close to him but my biological father (he signed away his rights when I was very young and we weren't allowed to see any of the family on that side) doesn't want to be in contact very much. He will send me 'happy thanksgiving' or 'happy mother's day' emails but he shows no signs of wanting to know who I am. I ramble on because I tried when I was 14 to contact him, 19 and now at 26 so he's gotten three chances, if he doesn't take this one then I won't try again. If you feel like you need to try just once more because he IS family then try that one last time but don't let yourself get letdown time and time again. We can't always force family to be there despite us desperately wanting them to be.

    Saw you on the PYHO link up and wanted to check you out, glad I did, I can relate to this very much. If you want to email reply feel free (or don't lol) smartinez03 at live dot com


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