Someone in Chicago isn’t wasting time on family disputes

If we can move on from toxic friends, relationships and workplaces, why does family get a pass?

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An illustration portraying conflict.

Family relations. The thing kids question and adults hope they will one day understand when they’re older.

Angela Cheng/Sun-Times

An advice column where Chicago can ask questions on how to navigate life transitions, relationships, family, finance and more.

There’s a lot to consider in early November when you’re an adult with free will and your mother asks, “Are you coming home for the holidays?”

It’s a loaded question I kindly want to follow up with: What am I going home to?

We could go back to our childhood bedroom that’s been turned into a laundry room, or go back to unraveling embarrassing memories from our youth that our siblings just won’t let go. But the thing that definitely makes me want to say “I’ll see you in the new year” is going back to unwanted ideas and people we were forced to tolerate when we were younger.

I’m not talking about religion or politics, but family relations. The thing kids question and adults hope they will one day understand when they’re older.

Like, why parents who hate each other stay together because it’s “the right thing to do” for the kids. Why a child is in the wrong and punished for standing up to mean adults. Or why we have to embrace and love a petty grandmother who makes it no secret that she doesn’t like your mom.

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If the last point sounded too personal, that’s because it is.

One summer, my family went to visit my grandparents in Mexico. I had gotten sick after drinking water from a well at the ranch, and took a day to rest in bed while my parents were out visiting old friends.

I woke up to my grandmother — my dad’s mom — venting her uncensored hate about my mom with a friend over coffee. She didn’t know I was there and thought it was a safe space, but I was all ears. When my parents pulled up outside, I got out of bed and, yes, the look on my grandmother’s face when she realized the house wasn’t empty was priceless.

I went up to my mom and whispered, “Grandma was talking bad about you.” My mom laughed and said, “I know.” After that glass-shattering revelation that not all grandmothers are soft and loving, my 10-year-old self was left wondering: Why are we here? Why are we giving this woman who hates the person I love the most in this world time out of our life?

That core memory has influenced me to break away from the mantra: “Your family will always be there for you.” Nah, count me out.

It could be another one of those generational things where I’m simply ready to break away from traditions where we put up with people who don’t add joy to your life. I’m done with excusing bad behavior or people who put us down with “That’s family for ya.”

I’m not talking about the usual bickering between siblings, or hearing your mom complain about how she does everything around the house. Or even being there for family dealing with their own monsters or challenges.

I’m talking about those extended family members who make you feel less than.

Those who shamelessly comment on how your skin color compares to the rest of the family, those who determine how happy a life you’ll have because of your weight or those who keep on asking when you will have a baby.

If we can move on from toxic friends, relationships and workplaces, why does family get a pass? Maybe other adults who have become parents or have married into a family might understand. If so, feel free to chime in.

All I’ve realized, as a person in their 30s, is that I’m grateful to now have the power to choose who is worthy of my time and love.

And if you are stuck with someone who doesn’t make you feel good about who you are, there’s always fight or flight to choose from. Let’s save the topic of family confrontations for another column.

For now, I choose blissful absence.

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