“Where the heck did I come from?” Some people find themselves asking this question about their own families. Their family’s view on life is very different from their own. They don’t align. They are the black sheep, if you will. Some people embrace the differences that their families bring and have pride in the varied relatives with different thoughts, actions, and lifestyles. There are others who find themselves embarrassed about their families and try to keep certain parts of their backgrounds a secret. Then, there are a set of people who fall right in between.
Back in the times of slavery, if a light skinned person was light enough to “pass for white,” some took their skin color as an opportunity to have a better life than being a slave. This sacrifice and secret life would cause them to distance themselves from their black relatives, deny them even. Hell, they had to deny who they were too. This topic alone leads many in the black community to debate about whether passing was a smart move for the slave or whether it was a coward move. We won’t go there and pick a side. We will instead focus on today’s issue of whether or not one should choose to be distant from their family if they do not agree with their choices.
Let’s face it, some of us come from toxic, familial relationships. If sitting around and getting drunk and/or high every weekend is how the family fellowships, it’s highly likely that not everyone in the family wants to participate in the family norm. So what do the intoxicated family members say to that? “Oh you think you better than us?” Does that black sheep truly think they are better or have they reached a level of enlightenment where they’ve found that drinking and getting high will not help them on the path they have chosen?
From college on, I typically found myself dating guys who did not eat red meat or pork. Was I recruiting such individuals with a list of non-preferred food requirements? Not at all. I’m not sure how it happened. It just did. Because I was not really big on cooking, my beaus would often cook or order something without red meat or pork. I became accustomed to their eating habits. I remember in one relationship, I hadn’t eaten red meat in so long that when I had a hamburger, it tasted awful and I got sick. It was my favorite quarter pounder too. I couldn’t believe it. However, I learned that red meat was not for me or my body and I haven’t had it since and that was about 20 years ago. I also remember going home to GA once and my folks made a chitterling meal for me. I wouldn’t eat it. I explained that I no longer ate pork or red meat. The looks I got spoke for themselves. “Oh you done went to college and now you can’t eat chitterlings no mo?” “I guess not.” I have a smart mouth I’ve been told.
Although our light heartened variances show differences, it goes much deeper than that for some. I asked some friends about the topic of distancing from family, stemming from a conversation I had with another friend. Surprisingly, many of them replied that they agreed with the practice and some had even done so themselves. Some remarked that learning about other lifestyles that were more positive caused them to consciously change for the betterment of their lives as well as their children. Knowing better resulted in doing better. Realizing that parts of the family was detrimental to mental and/or physical health or not supportive of their growth caused some to take another path which lead to intentional distancing.
However, there were a couple who vowed to be with their family through thick and thin, good and bad, and toxic or positive. How can they do this? Through leading by example. One respondent stated that change within a toxic family culture has never come from distancing one’s self or ignoring the problem. Instead, they suggested trying to initiate change. Although there are older adults who are set in their ways, younger children become victims of those settled negative mindsets. Thus, trying to help those younger family members and leading by example may still work to better the family overall.
One stated that taking pieces of their respective family cultures as a couple has allowed them to create their own culture for their immediate family. Distancing themselves was not the main issue, but incorporating the positives and leaving the rest behind has proven effective for them while they still remain emotionally close to loved ones.
Regardless of your views on your family culture, we all come from one. Even if you grew up without a family, there was still a culture in which you lived. As an adult, you will surely reflect on the life you had as a child and either chose to continue those traditions or not. Your views may not lead you to physically or mentally distancing, and may cause you to help out your family by positively challenging them to make some changes. Either way, we should never forget from whence we came. Those experiences and those family members helped to shape us whether they were positive or negative. We are who we are because they were who or what they were and we learned to follow or create a new path.