A Lesson In Forgiveness, Self-Love, and Personal Growth
People always seem to find it fascinating that I grew up as the youngest in a family of nine children. Whenever someone learns of this fact, I am often times met with proclamations of how wonderful it must have been to belong to such a large family. “The holidays must have been so lively!” “You must all be so close,” and “There must have never a dull moment!” Yet for me, it wasn’t all it might appear to be.
Because I was the last in line, the age gap between me and my closest sibling starts at seven years, and goes upwards from there until a twenty year difference between me and my eldest sibling. I remember being told as a child that, as I got older, the age gap would not seem so large and we would have “more in common.” Some of my earliest memories are from when I was around 3 or 4 years old. I remember observing my six older brothers rough-housing, wrestling, and playing pranks on one another that often resulted in a mixture of large thumps, banging, and laughing, that seemed to shake the whole house, and eventually my father yelling a resounding ‘SIMMER DOWN’ that eclipsed even the rough-housing of 6 boys. As a young child, I was somewhat mesmerized by the comradery of my brothers especially. While I wouldn’t necessarily deem them all as best friends, they certainly appeared close, as they hung out with each other, played football in the yard, watched sports together, and went on adventures together that I was often times left out of.
I have two older sisters, the oldest of whom is the farthest apart from me in age (twenty years) and whom I never actually lived with because by the time I was born she was already in college. My earliest memories of her was when she would visit around Christmas-time with her now husband, then boyfriend; she was the sister whom I shared few, but precious, memories with. My other sister was the middle child, and while we are cordial today when in each other’s presence, growing up we weren’t exactly the best of friends either.
As I grew older, the amount of people residing in the same household dwindled, as the boys went off to college and began their own lives, and I was still quite young and the age differences didn’t permit me to be involved much in the lives of my siblings. While I was included in the occasional ‘pull my finger’ joke when they were around, I can honestly say that the much of the shenanigans I witnessed were as an outsider somewhat from a distance.
I am sure they regarded me as the ‘spoiled one,’ since I was the last in line, and my mother’s last daughter at that. My father had been in the military throughout the course of raising all his kids, so everyone had been shuffled around the world every few years, with the exception being me. My father retired from the military when I was four years old, so I was spared the distress of having to change schools and friendships often. I was also fortunate enough that by the time I was in elementary school, my father was in a private medical practice, so I was afforded more luxuries as a kid than my other siblings were; something I know that they resented.
I also was not the best behaved child either, which didn’t add to the lack of affection displayed to me by my siblings. I was known to have frequent emotional outbursts, as well as to be impulsive, somewhat irrational, and often times stubborn and belligerent. As a child I was often overwhelmed with emotions I didn’t know how to express, but yet also never understood why I would sometimes just lose it. However, in my late teens/early twenties I experienced a severe health crisis through which I came to realize I had multiple severe food sensitivities, toxic overload of heavy metals, bad gut bacteria, hormone imbalances, and nutrient deficiencies that I am certain contributed to much of my childhood depression and emotional ups and downs.
By the time I was 11 years old, nearly everyone in my family had already left the nest and gone on to create their own path. I had never really been close to any of my siblings, except one brother, who actually met his wife online and ended up moving to Australia when I was twelve years old. I took his departure rather hard, and fell into a deep depression that resulted in an eating disorder that would take hold of me for many years. I am not blaming his leaving on my personal issues; I was actually quite happy that he had found someone to love and start a family with. But it didn’t make it easier on me that the one sibling I felt a real connection with had disappeared from my own little world.
I am not proud to say that from then on, I made a series of bad choices in my life that led to my becoming a teen mom, and eventually my leaving my parent’s house on bad terms. I didn’t have the greatest relationships with the rest of my siblings prior to my becoming pregnant, and it didn’t get any better after I left my parent’s house either.
When I moved out, no one attempted to make contact with me, and nor I them. It took several years before I began speaking with my parents again (whom, I never really had the best relationship with anyways), and I can’t really recall a time when any kind of relationship with any of siblings was attempted to be established. I was fortunate during this time to meet my now fiance’, who had a child of his own as well, and whom we have blended families with our own child.
I can’t honestly say that the lack of relationships with my siblings hasn’t caused me pain (when I take a moment to stop and think about it). In fact, as a young child, it often hurt me greatly that I wasn’t included in their interactions with one another. While I can understand that an older sibling would be reluctant to hang out with a much younger, ‘annoying’ littler sister, I secretly admired them so much and longed to be a part of their clan so much that the fact that I was excluded often times was the driving factor in my pursuing activities that were far above my age.
I grew up with siblings 7 ,8, 9, 10, even 20 years older than me. I wanted to be like them. I wanted to do the things they did; hang out with the people they did, go to parties, watch movies I wasn’t supposed to, even date, all because I simply couldn’t. I am not blaming my own actions or even inactions on them, but I do believe that I was motivated to pursue age-inappropriate decisions out of a desire to feel included in a world I simply wasn’t able to participate in. Yet somehow, all I did was drive myself further and further away from ‘their world,’ and even the world I truly longed to be a part of.
It’s been a long time since I’ve really spoken to, or engaged with, many of my siblings. In fact, this was the first Christmas I saw several of them in a long time. I flew home to my parent’s house this Christmas with my two girls, and had a chance to see one of my sisters, (who has her own kids now) and two of my brothers (who do not have their own kids yet). I am 27 years old, and most of my siblings are in their mid 30’s-40’s. My own fiance’ is in his 40’s, and I believe one reason we clicked was because I do interact better with people older than I am because I have always been an old soul. People my age are into things I have already outgrown; their maturity level still consists of bar-hopping and Tinder, where my days involve poopy diapers, and longing for a quiet bath alone at night, or a moment to read a book or learn about how to start a business or establish an effective morning routine.
When I flew home this Christmas, I had subconsciously hoped that the sentiments I had often heard iterated to me when I was younger would ring true: ‘When you are older, the age gap won’t seem so large, and you will have a better relationship with your siblings.’ But, this just wasn’t the case. When I walked in the door, I was barely acknowledged. I said “Merry Christmas,” walked up to them myself, and was the one to give the hugs. Beyond that, not much was said or expressed. One sibling in particular, ignored me entirely the whole duration of our simultaneous visit. While I wasn’t exactly expecting exuberant enthusiasm at my arrival, I had hoped that perhaps our now closer proximity in age might relieve some of the tension previously experienced.
How wrong I was.
My siblings know nothing of my personal life. While I have not tried to educate them on how I spend my days, they have also expressed no desire to learn about it, either. They do not know I spend many hours listening to personal development podcasts, or reading self-improvement books. They do not know I spend my free time learning digital marketing, praying before Our Lady for strength and resources, or attempting to forge a career of my own, all while playing mother, step-mom, and fiance’. They do not know what keeps me up at night is my intense desire to be able to provide for my girls for the rest of their lives. They do not know of the things I have seen or experienced while they were busy building their own lives, and after this recent holiday experience, I have come to realize that it’s okay.
This New Year, I cannot spend another moment mourning a lost connection with those who simply share the same DNA as I. I cannot will others to see what they choose not to. My mother attempted to console me that, they still see what they want to see; a teen mom who made several bad decisions that ultimately led me to where I am now. For me, this wasn’t a consolation. This was an affirmation. An affirmation that it is not my job to try to prove myself to people who aren’t willing to look beyond what they see or have seen on the surface. It wasn’t my role as a young child to try to be older than I was in order to fit in, and it isn’t my purpose now, to try to gain the approval of others in order to fit in to a clan that never seemed to want me included anyways.
I will always be different; I will always be me. And my purpose in life is not to make myself accepted into my own family. I have created my own family, which is far from perfect, but has become my own family nevertheless. My purpose is to improve myself; to learn to love myself, for all my faults and flaws, and to somehow learn to move beyond those character flaws, as well as forgive myself for the mistakes I have made. I cannot let my own self-worth be determined by the opinion of others who choose not to forgive others themselves or look beyond the past. Does this mean I am completely quitting on my family? Not necessarily.
Instead, I have learned that intentionally placing myself in their presence often does little to improve the energy surrounding me. Allowing other people’s negative energy to infiltrate my own space does little to assist me in the personal growth I strive for. I have learned that I must seek to constantly strive for personal development so that I can overcome the barriers that perhaps I myself have put in my path; and the only way I can do this is to let go of my own grudges and accept that some things aren’t my problem anymore. I can’t blame my siblings for feeling the way they do, and I can’t continue to expend my energy either lamenting a lost relationship or seeking approval. I can’t change the past, and honestly, I don’t think I would, even if I could. For I have seen and experienced many things that have shaped who I am today, and will only serve to help me become the person, mother, and career-woman I know I will be in the future. And that future, is culminating to the now.
Originally published at medium.com