Auntie SparkNotes: Parental Perspectives
I need your help. My parents have been broken up for 16 years. They were never married, and when they broke up I was only 10 months old, so I don't remember any of it. Now I'm 17, and my parents have been at each others throats a lot lately over college stuff, and recently my dad said that my mother is constantly manipulating me -- which led to my dad and my stepmom (with whom he was having an affair just before my mom and him broke up, and who he later married) telling me that if I ever wanted their side of the story, all I had to do was ask. (But they did it in a teaser trailer kind of way, only with more teaser then trailer.)
The thing is, I've believed my mom's side of the story for so long, I'm not sure I want to hear a different version -- and just from what I've heard from my dad so far, it sounds like there are going to be some major differences. My mom's story, of course, paints my dad as this horrible guy who cheated on her after she spent 10 years with him, and how he's done nothing for us since they broke up, etc. I realize, and accept, that her side of the story is probably biased about the whole situation, but she's the only one who's ever actually told me ANYTHING about what happened. Ever. I've never really been comfortable talking about deep stuff with my dad, and he's never offered something like this up before. Now that my dad and my step mom are offering up their side of the story (which is probably biased too) I'm not really sure I want to know. I'm curious about what he has to say, but I'm not really sure I want to hear it. What should I do Auntie? I feel like not hearing his side of the story is like missing a part of my history, but hearing it could change everything I've ever known.
Well, yes. Yes, it could.
But if everything you've ever known was based on half-truths, slant, and missing information, would you really want to hang onto it?
And more importantly, could you?
Because even if you think that your mom's version of events is worth the blind eye you'd have to turn to keep believing it, willful ignorance isn't as easy as you might think. Or in other words, you can't un-know that there's more to the story; you can't go back to before. And even if you close your mind as tightly as you can, the knowledge that there's something you don't know has left a crack through which doubt will never stop seeping in.
Basically, darling, it's too late: there's already a deep, unfixable crack through the center of your worldview. And sooner or later, you're going to have to accept that life is far too complicated and messy and multifaceted to be seen in black and white.
But in this case, I think it's safe to say that whatever you learn can only help you, rather than hurt you. Here you have a chance to have explained some of the things about your history that don't seem to add up; to form an opinion using your own judgment; and to begin relating to your parents not just as Mom and Dad but as people, with their own strengths and faults and foibles. And while your dad's perspective may poke some holes in the story you've always accepted as truth, the fact that he kept quiet for so long—holding his side of the story back until you were old enough to handle such heavy stuff—is all the more reason to listen to what he has to say now. In fact, I wonder if you realize just how hard that must have been, and how much love and strength it must have taken. That he would stay silent all these years and resist the urge to defend himself, knowing as he did that your mom was painting a deeply unflattering portrait of him as a worthless deadbeat and a cheater... well, let's just say that those don't sound like the actions of a horrible, selfish, uncaring person who never did anything for you.
And if you intentionally turn away from your chance to get a second perspective on how your family got where it is, that won't make the truth any less complicated... but it will make you a person who was so scared of the complex realities of life, love and family that she chose ignorance over understanding. And you don't want to be that person. You're better than that. So take your dad up on his offer, hold up what you learn against what you already know, and then draw your own conclusions about what you see there.
And make a promise to yourself that no matter what, in the future, you won't stay in the dark just because you're scared of what you might see when the lights come on.
Have you ever learned something scary or complicated about your family? Tell us in the comments! And to get advice from Auntie, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.