Despite a necessary permanent estrangement, it's painful to accept that my family won't ever know my daughters.
My family will never, ever know my children. This is a non-negotiable boundary for many reasons, but suffice to say I have to protect my kids from the toxicity I grew up with. But there is a part of me, deep down, that sometimes wishes they knew my kids.
Let me explain.
Next week, it will be 10 years since I "broke up" with my family. It was a mutual decision and, like I already mentioned, it cannot and will not ever change. But for 26 years, they were my family. Because of biology and destiny, I forged a bond with each of these people—my mother and my grandparents, who lived next door to us for 22 years. These weren't a few distant relatives—these were the people who created and sustained me. The people who said they loved me, but that love came with terms and conditions.
These people were my entire life. For a long time.
There were good times, imprinted on my hippocampus alongside the trauma, that are forever enmeshed in my mind and my body: birthdays, holidays, summer picnics, weekend getaways, and various events. More than that, though, is that these three people will forever reside within me, these three people who knew me from the very beginning. And I knew them. Not just their likes and dislikes, but their insides. What made them tick. What they loved, and why. What they approved of. Their limitations. Their own trauma (What's that saying? "Hurt people hurt people?"). Their politics, their history, their thoughts about the world.
And, of course, their virulence. I learned how to walk on eggshells at an early age, and perfected the art of appeasing narcissism.
But I'd be lying if I said I didn't feel wistful at times, especially regarding my two daughters. Would my grandmother love how much my oldest daughter loves to cook? And her voracious appetite for books? Would my grandfather be as absolutely tickled by my youngest daughter and her rough-and-tumble antics? Would my mother, for whom vanity was the number one commandment, think my daughters are beautiful?
Are holidays empty and joyless without the wonder and excitement of children present? Would they notice that my oldest daughter has the same bright green eyes as my grandmother and mother? Would they notice how much their mannerisms and behaviors mimic my own? What would they think of my girls and their big personalities? Do they regret choosing a life without the joy that comes with being a grandmother and great-grandparents?
Or would they aim to find "flaws" that don't exist and berate them for it, just like they did with me?
This is why I'll never have the answers to my questions, why it's not worth the risk of the fickle quelling of my yearnings. It's also not just my choice that we're estranged; they walked away first. I simply made sure I'd never put myself in a position to be left again. And now that I'm a mother, I cannot excuse nor fathom the way they treated me when I wasn't being who they wanted me to be.
Becoming a mother forced me to confront all the trauma I'd repressed while finding absolution in their absence.
I've learned that on some molecular level, I'll never stop wondering about what they'd think of my life and my family. This may be the result of spending much of my life as the scapegoat child of a narcissist, I know that.
Additionally, it's also very strange to acknowledge that the first 26 years of my life will remain largely a mystery to my children. That they'll only know my mother and grandparents through my own stories and perspective. And how complicated it will be to explain such complicated dynamics about the people who shaped me, the people they'll never know.
The pain of the estrangement has subsided with time, but the absence will forever be keenly felt. People often say to me, in a well-intentioned way, "It's their loss." But that's not true, is it? Because it's mine, too. I've lost a mother. I've lost my grandparents. I won't be able to give my children the big, loving, extended family I always wanted.
Despite everything, part of me will always wish they knew my children. Not because they deserve to. But because, in the end, I deserved a better family than what I got. And in my grief for what I'll never have, the wistfulness for what I always wanted remains.