I am on the phone with my cousin. I have it on speaker, tucked into my blouse as I clatter and clang washing dishes. She puts up with the noise and me as we trade notes on our week. I hang up and feel a physical wave of gratitude wash over me for her time and concern.
It isn’t often that I feel overwhelmed like today. I’d like to attribute it to hormones or to the tumultuous week I have had. It sets me thinking about people. About family in particular, immediate and extended.
Parts of our conversation reaffirms what I already know. We let our families get away with the worst of behaviors in the name of blood ties and years of investment in relationships. We let ourselves be bullied, disrespected and put down repeatedly. We take it in the name of respect, affection and even love. We defend it to people outside, making excuses and even lying. We do it repeatedly until at some point we start believing it true.
We enable behaviors we find abhorrent in people outside our circle because we do not want to believe someone who is part of us can be that bad. We condone and when we don’t we passively watch giving tacit encouragement.
I sit in the silence of my home thinking about people who could have been in my life but are not and feel something akin to wistfulness. I search for regrets and find none. I think about the things I tell my daughters each time they come home complaining of bullying and realize I cannot expect them to follow in my footsteps unless I walk the walk.
“Walk away if you are not respected.”
“Refuse to engage with bullies.”
“Stand up for yourself and for those who need help.”
“Love is not love unless there is respect.”
“Own who you are and do so with pride.”
I tell variations on the above at random times to all three of my daughters. I see them eyes wide, willing to believe in it. I look back on the interactions I regret in my life (the ones from which I wish I had walked away) and am grateful they were in the past long before children came along. I hope if there is one thing they take away from growing up as my daughters, it is that they are comfortable with who they are and that there is no one on earth who is indispensable to them. That they can find peace in silence and good company is one in which there is as much give as there is take.