How to Deal With an Unaccepting Family

Ian Wilson was married to Laura, and they had two children. He has since come out and is now in a relationship with another man, Jesse. You can read his coming out story. While he and Laura enjoy a terrific relationship, his family has not been supportive and their relationship is strained.

The holidays can be a stressful time: gifts to buy and wrap, stockings to fill, food to cook, family get-togethers to organize, etc. For those of us still longing for our family’s full acceptance, that stress is compounded. During a time of year when we gravitate towards our kin, it’s hard when we don’t feel included. Whether we can’t attend our own family’s holiday functions, or have to attend them without our significant other, it dampens the spirit of the holidays and sours our relationships.

It’s a tough situation, for everyone involved. And the question that always rises to the surface: “What am I going to do next year?” Unfortunately, there isn’t an easy answer, but these are the things I try to remember when I feel frustrated.

Remember empathy.

One thing I have to remember is my own past. My family members are still adherents of their faith. I had that same religion growing up. I have to remember what it was like to be in that mindset, to distort the world around me to support my beliefs. Were I still living that way, would I react any differently? It took me nearly a decade to get this sorted out; they’ve only become aware of my journey fairly recently.

Remember love.

It’s hard to reconcile the love we have for our family with the rejection we feel, but we have to honor what love truly is, above and beyond how we’re currently feeling. Patience, kindness, and honesty are key. It would take a lot to separate us from the love we feel for our parents and siblings. It’s in our DNA to feel these strong family ties. But remember what Whitney said about the greatest love of all. You have a responsibility to love yourself, that’s where the love we share with the world originates. What I mean is you have to love yourself first, that’s where you will find the strength to respond with love to the people in your life who reject you. Responding with anger is easy, but the effect a gentle loving approach can have never fails to amaze me.

Lucy, Henry and Ian Wilson

Remember what’s most important.

The kids. Amidst all of the emotions and history present in any family drama it’s easy to lose track. Over the years familial relationships can get complicated, but for kids it’s, hopefully, so much simpler. They just love their grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins unconditionally. If you are considering limiting contact between your kids and certain members of your family make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons: Is it a knee-jerk reaction to your own hurt feelings, or is exposure to them actually going to be detrimental to your child’s development?

The answer is balance.

There must be a balance between loving and respecting yourself, and your family. You have to love yourself enough to admit when something is hurting you and needs to be fixed, one way or another. You have to love and respect your family enough to be patient with them while they adjust to something you may have come to accept over years of internal struggle. You have to remember that your kids are in the middle of all of this, and might not be old enough to understand the emotions at work and only know that people they love are in conflict.

Have I found that balance? Umm, not yet. To be honest, I’ve had it pretty good: My parents offer invaluable help by watching the kids during the week, and the worst they’ve done is to avoid acknowledging my partner’s existence. Not ideal, but so much better than what many people experience. Even in this situation the temptation is to feel resentment, and that’s a constant threat I need to be mindful of.

Everyone’s family is different, each situation unique to your history as a family. When it comes to relationships this complicated I don’t believe there is a right or wrong answer, but I do know that by approaching the situation with empathy, love, and focusing on the kids I’m treating the situation honestly and respectfully, and I will find my way.

Posted by Ian Wilson

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