When my spouse proposed to me, I felt an incredible, overwhelming joy. Then when we started telling people, a thin layer of panic crept in. Getting engaged meant I had to come out to my extended family, invite them to the wedding, introduce them to my non-binary partner and deal with their stares and their questions and their judgment.
Or so I thought.
I brought my concerns to my therapist, who’d spent weeks telling me how important it is to “hold people accountable for my trauma” instead of only blaming myself.
I told her I felt pressured to come out, to invite my whole family to the wedding, to have a massive affair despite the fact that my partner didn’t think it was necessary. Didn’t want a huge wedding. Didn’t want me inviting people who caused me to panic with a simple text.
I felt there was no way around that.
My therapist, on the other hand, said, “They’re right. You shouldn’t invite people who traumatize you and won’t be supportive.”
She asked me what my mom thought, and I remembered: my mom and step-dad had a very small ceremony involving just one family member (me), as well as a handful of close friends. They didn’t invite their parents.
They certainly didn’t reach out to extended family.
When I talked to my mom about my worries, she told me to invite whomever I wanted, and that she would support me no matter what. It took a massive weight off my shoulders. While my relationship with my mom hasn’t always been easy, her love and support have always been achingly important to me.
When it comes to my mom, “holding people accountable for my trauma” looks a little different. For a long time, I felt like she had abandoned me. Now, I don’t think that at all. Now I get it. I’ve let go of my anger aimed at her, after years of not knowing how to process it.
Growing up as the product of a teenage pregnancy meant constantly being reminded of how I came into the world. It meant being the subject of constant family arguments, with custody over me used as a bargaining chip to make my mom back down.
My dad moved away when I was five and my mom moved away when I was twelve, leaving me with just my paternal grandmother to raise me. My teenage years were hard, pockmarked by drunken tirades and a slow realization that though my family loved me, they didn’t always know how best to take care of me.
As an adult, I recognize that this is why my mom moved away: to take care of herself so that she could take better care of me.
She needed to get away from the harsh criticism and the constant undermining of her personhood, her motherhood, and her happiness. It wasn’t until I, too, made the choice to move away from that, that I started to fully understand that, and how important it was.
I didn’t live with my mom and step-dad until I turned 18. They had moved across the country, and I had been accepted into New England colleges. Because I was an adult when I moved in, our relationship walked a bizarre line between parent-child and simply roommates.
My mom and step-dad treated me with the respect we (unfortunately) only seem to allot to adults: they gave me more responsibility, but they also gave me the room to explore myself, my desires, and my goals. Being away from the rest of my family allowed me to breathe for what felt like the first time ever. It wasn’t just college; it was living with two adults who supported me, full stop, and never made me feel small.
College was good for me in all the ways that it was also terrifying: I came out, explored sex, and learned the ins and outs of standing up for myself. I also fell into an abusive relationship that I barely managed to crawl out of, slowly extricated myself from the controlling clutches of my extended family, and got to know my mom.
Like really got to know her, on the level of two adults talking.
I know many people who are closer to their moms in adulthood than they were in adolescence. Talking to your parents as an adult is a wholly different experience: you have agency all your own, not dictated by their guardianship.
For me and my mom, getting to know each other as adults helped me come to grips with a lot of what happened in my adolescence, including her choice to leave. She never abandoned me; I saw my mom regularly. She made it to every major event in my life: school plays, band concerts, graduation. In between visits and day trips, she worked on herself.
Worked on her relationship. Worked on being happy, so that she could take better care of me.
When she left, I was hurt. I hated my step-dad, raged against my mom, wanted to know why people who claimed to love me continuously walked away. Now, they’re two of the most supportive people in my life, and I’m so wildly grateful for them that sometimes I can’t even find the words.
When my partner and I did get married, we had no family present. I told my mom we planned to do a very small ceremony with just some friends, and she supported the decision fully. She said she and my step-dad would love to celebrate with us sometime soon.
We made other arrangements, I cried through the entire conversation, and it was good.
Our relationship took a long time to get to this point, but the older I get, the more I feel like I understand my mom, the choices she made, and why she made them.
I didn’t get why my mom couldn’t stay, until eventually I realized that I needed to leave, too.
As family dynamics have shifted for myself and my spouse, it’s become clear to me that my mom — who encouraged me to “make my own family” rather than relying solely on blood — understands what it’s like to make tough choices in order to be happy.
Connecting over that has brought us closer than ever.