Would you entertain a friend who called you fat?
Would you chat with a buddy who rifled through your bureau drawers?
Would you lift a pint with a best mate who sexually abused your child?
Of course not!!!
So why do we still allow our own families to call us fat, pry into intimate details and abuse our children. It’s as though the F-word ‘family’ is a free pass for any and all kinds of abuse.
Young adult children are living at home with their parents for longer and longer times. In the UK, we call them ‘kippers,’ which is short for ‘kids in parents’ pockets eroding retirement savings’. In the US, they’re known as ‘mummy’s boys’ or ‘boomerang kids’. Yet all for of this extra time and bonus years spent together, the families I’ve observed are more toxic to each other, not less. More brusque, intrusive and disrespectful to each other than they would ever behave towards friends let alone strangers.
‘Familiarity’ they say ‘breeds contempt’ but it seems that ‘family breeds contempt’ may be true too. It’s not merely that family are the only ones who you can trust to tell you the truth about yourself, too often they’re absolutely brutal not through loving kindness, but jealousy.
A few years ago, a friend was finally able to afford a complete renovation of her home. During her housewarming party, her mother wandered around grimacing and mumbling, telling anyone who would listen how ugly the new furnishings were and what dreadful taste her daughter had. If anyone else had behaved in that way, my friend would have thrown them out on their ear, but because it was Family behaving so atrociously, my friend turned a deaf ear to her mother’s abuse. She held it together for the sake of her guests but what should have been a joyful evening ended in tears.
Again, the f-word, ‘family’, had excused abuse.
The most shocking abuse is, of course, sexual abuse by a member of our own family. In 2016, the Guardian reported that ‘Survivors of sexual assault by rape or penetration reported that the perpetrator was most likely to be a friend or acquaintance (30%) or other family member (26%)’. Those statistics are virtually equal! In the case of my husband, Rhys, incest ran rampant through at least three generations.
Because the sexual abuse was perpetrated by ‘family,’ unbelievably they all still speak to each other. Family Christmas or Boxing Day parties are awkward, to say the least, with everyone making nervous chit-chat while avoiding eye contact with their abuser. Had the sexual abuse been committed by a friend, acquaintance or stranger, the split would have been immediate and permanent followed by a criminal investigation and gaol time. But as it was perpetrated by family business went on as usual…a bond that apparently not even rape and incest can erase. A double-standard I absolutely repudiate.
No one is more pro-family than me but it seems to me that loving family should treat us better than friends, more kindly then mere acquaintances. Although it shouldn’t need to be said, family should be the last place abuse occurs, not the first. Sadly, most of us first experience abuse in the context of family.
So why do we still cling to people who treat us worse than strangers? Why do we stay silent and allow ourselves to be verbally abused by our mother, father, sisters, brothers, grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins? Worst of all, why do we stay silent, clinging to our abuser and even placing our vulnerable, innocent children in the path of those who abused us?
Years ago I heard a story of a father who raped his daughter. Decades later, the now-grandfather told his daughter he wanted to be a sitter for her young daughters. ‘Surely’ she thought, ‘surely he wouldn’t harm his own granddaughters. He’s family, after all’. So she obeyed her father wishes and left her little girls in his care. He raped them, of course.
But he was family.
It’s time we held family up to the same standard as friends, acquaintances and even strangers. Would we allow certain behaviour from a friend? Would we ignore insults from them? Put up with intrusive questions and the violation of basic manners, politeness and boundaries? Of course not!
Then why, for the love of mercy, do we put up with it from ‘family’? We shouldn’t! Family should treat us better than anyone else. ‘Family’ is no excuse. Blood and shared genetics make no difference. Abuse is abuse.
It’s time we hold our own families to the same standards that we hold everyone else. ‘Family’, the ‘other F-word’, is no excuse for vile words and actions.
Photo by Phil Scoville