I recently read Tara Westover’s memoir, Educated. My interest in the book was piqued by this quote:

“I shed my guilt (of cutting family ties) when I accepted my decision on its own terms, without endlessly prosecuting old grievances, without weighing his sins against mine. Without thinking of my father I learned to accept my decision for its own sake, because of me not because of him, because I needed it not because he deserved it. It was the only way I could love him.”

(This is what I wrote about it back then: A brilliant quote about shedding the guilt associated with cutting family ties)

From a review:

“Despite the singularity of [Tara Westover’s] childhood, the questions her book poses are universal: How much of ourselves should we give to those we love? And how much must we betray them to grow up?”

How much of ourselves should we give them? What do we owe?

Here’s a list of things you might believe you owe you mother/family (and, in some cases, your mother might believe she owes you/others in your family), but actually don’t:

:: being a “positive” reflection of her (meaning, her definition of “positive”)
:: secrecy
:: emotional care-taking
:: physical care-taking
:: tolerating “bad” behavior
:: an explanation of why you choose to live your life differently than she does, if you do, in fact, live your life differently
:: your agreement with everything she believes
:: having the same values
:: a lack of boundaries
:: “success” (meaning, her definition of “success”)
:: failure (“don’t outshine me”)
:: hugs
:: kisses
:: phone calls
:: visits
:: happiness
:: unhappiness (“misery loves company”)
:: money
:: time
:: etc.

Consciously and cleanly choosing to give any of these things is the difference between dysfunctional codependence and healthy interdependence.

How much must we betray them?

Betrayal is the breaking or violation of a presumptive contract, trust, or confidence that produces moral and psychological conflict within a relationship amongst individuals, between organizations or between individuals and organizations. ~ Wikipedia

I used to say that my mother “accused” me of betraying her. I also used to deny it and/or defend myself (because I believed betrayal is bad and wrong). I hadn’t betrayed her, what I had done was to (finally) be true to myself. But secretly I wondered, what if I had betrayed her and what does that say about me?

Now I see it differently. And I have reframed the way I say it.

I betrayed my mother. Of course I did.

I broke a presumptive (and unconscious) contract that basically stated I would be a positive reflection of her and her values and parenting, that I would engage with her in the ways she wanted me to, that I wouldn’t ever talk about or share my struggles and experiences with anyone other than her, and that I would stay small to protect her ego (this is my perception of our contract). I broke the contract and created conflict. I chose to no longer show up in the relationship the way I used to.

Which doesn’t mean that there can’t be something newer and better on the other side.

On both micro and macro levels, the presumptive contract that got us (as individuals within families and as societies in the greater world) to where we are now, in some ways no longer serves us. Now we understand that the paradigm of blind loyalty to family/institution no matter what is faulty. Now we know that shame thrives in isolation and secrecy. Now we know that shame and fear (at least not in the way that families/institutions used to, and in some cases still do, wield it) isn’t necessary.

Living my life as I see fit, as I desire to live it, was a betrayal to my mother. And I am okay with that. I’d like to think that she is, too, because in many ways she showed me what it looks like. And for that, I am deeply grateful.

If you are emotionally enmeshed with your mother, and you no longer want to be, betrayal is a given.

How much do you WANT to give her?

And are you willing to betray her to grow up?

These are GREAT questions and I encourage you answer them for yourself.

Much, much love,

Karen

P.S. Check out this interview with Dr. Joshua Coleman, a psychologist who studies family estrangement. And this one, too: Why Families Break Up.