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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Too Quick to Judge?

This week the conversation in my head has been about judgement and how quick we are to judge others without first seeking to understand. How unskilled we are at discussing sensitive issues with each other. How we become defensive and can't really hear what the other person is saying because we're too busy making them wrong, making ourselves right and working on what we're going to be saying next to shame them, blame them or somehow make them look bad so that we will look good. I share this because I think it happens to the best of us, to all of us, and because it's something I may think I'm pretty good at, but I'm not perfect and need to be reminded sometimes.

Now that Thanksgiving is here, I have mixed feelings about being at my mom's for dinner even though I don't have to spend the night or God forbid, the week, with her, it still feels obligatory rather than celebratory and that's where I'm stuck. I'd prefer the latter rather than the former to occupy my thoughts instead, but I'm struggling.

One of the issues came up this morning as I was talking to my mom. She was talking about my cousin's house burning down yesterday and how she lost everything. Her glasses, her clothes, her shoes, her "stuff" and unfortunately, her beloved cat. We are all thankful that she's okay and we all agree she's lucky to be alive. Of course I feel terrible that this has happened to her and I wouldn't wish such a horrible event like this on anyone, ever.

My aunt, my cousin's mom, dropped everything she had going on yesterday and rushed to her aid and took her shopping for a few things. Thankfully, the Red Cross had stepped in right away with temporary hotel vouchers and help with the necessities and even some cash but most of all comforting support. I appreciate the Red Cross for that and I'll keep them in mind when I think of charitable contributions.

While all of these events are tragic and hopeful at the same time, my mom, in an effort to get the story straight from the horse's mouth, called my cousin last night. She was staying in a nearby hotel. She asked her what her plans were for Thanksgiving and my cousin told my mom that she didn't have any plans and said that if she were invited to dinner with her family, she couldn't get there because her car is not working and then she threw in "I feel alone and unloved by my family. They ignore me when I call and they don't like me."

My mom's next move was to call another family member to shame her sister, my cousin's mom, and her siblings for not doing enough to help my cousin at this time and for not taking her into one of their homes last night. She had jumped to judgement of my aunt without ever talking to her about it, without considering the history my cousin has with her family, without any benefit of the doubt for not having all of the information. She didn't seek answers, she laid down the heavy gavel of judgement on my cousin's family based on a single conversation with my cousin.

When she called me this morning, I'm guessing to get my support for her position that my aunt and her family were heartless, here's what she got instead.

"Mom, your sister ran to her aid yesterday and stayed with her all day."

"Yes, but she didn't take her home with her. I couldn't have left you there to go stay in a hotel after such a traumatic event."

"Did you talk to your sister, is there a reason she left her to stay in the hotel? Does she need to be available to the fire investigators? Is there paperwork with the Red Cross to be done today? Is she staying with her boyfriend? If she did go to her mom's, she wouldn't have a car to go anywhere if she needed to and her mom's at work all day."

"I don't know but I think it's awful. She should have taken her home with her. I certainly hope she's going to pick her up for dinner on Thursday."

"Well, she's been invited every year to her family's Thanksgiving but she rarely shows up anymore. You know, just because she was involved in a terrible tragedy doesn't take away from the years of drug abuse, crazy behavior and drama she's dragged her family through and continues to drag them through. When she was arrested this summer her mom bailed her out. (My cousin abandoned her own daughter when she was only 12. Her daughter, now grown, won't speak to her most of the time and when they do, it ends up very ugly.) She continues to use, she refuses to rehab and she still makes bad decisions for herself including endangering her sibling's minor children by giving them drugs and alcohol. One of them, at age 14, ended up in the ER on Thanksgiving a few years ago with alcohol poisoning and she's the one who gave it to them. Her mom communicates with her every month because she still pays her expenses for her because she can't keep a job and when she does have her over, she behaves like a crazy person and won't leave. She only calls in the middle of the night and when she does it's incessant and panicked. She has diabetes but won't take medicine or modify her sugary diet, she's set herself up - she makes her choices everyday and she lives with the consequences. I feel sorry for her that she doesn't learn from it and choose differently. It's like she's not just addicted to drugs, but to drama as well."

"Still, it's heartbreaking. She should be with her family now. She says she's sorry for what she's done and that her family won't give her a second chance."

"Second chance? Really? What obligation does her family have to continue to be supportive when she continues to make poor choices for herself? Who gives a second chance to someone who's endangered your children? Why should her family care more about her than she cares for herself?"

"Well, if they don't invite her I will. She should be with family now."

"Mom, do you understand that she's playing you? That she's saying whatever she can to get what she wants? It's classic addict behavior. Did you ever stop to consider the source and that she rarely tells stories that are completely true?"

"She's expressing her feelings. She's hurt."

"I get it. She's said that all before - every time you talk to her.  I feel badly for her but that doesn't mean that I'm going to throw my good judgement out the window and invite her to stay with me so she can drive me crazy when she has a perfectly good hotel that's available to her. I'm sure her brother will drive her over and back for dinner if she wants to go on Thursday but since we're not sure what her family is willing to do because they haven't been asked, is it really fair to throw them under the bus to the rest of the family right now?"

And that's where I am - stuck in not wanting to get involved, upset about all of the circumstances and reminded of how impulsive my mom is at forming her opinions without complete information. She makes me feel like I'm being an asshole about my cousin. Maybe I am. My mom knows all of the background, she didn't forget - she just thinks differently about it. I'm trying to understand better and I kind of think it's endearing that she's so loving about my cousin, regardless. It's just that I don't see the logic or fairness in having those feelings for one and not the other family members. It's like she has different standards for each person.

It leads me to question what family values are for my mom, for my cousin, for myself and what, if any, entitlements come with being a family. I think my cousin's family is being very generous with her, given the circumstances, but maybe I'm not seeing something that my mom sees. Maybe I'm not understanding my mom's perspective because I'm so outraged at what I perceive to be flawed judgement, poor communication and dangerous vulnerability.

I hope I can get to "happy to be here with you" by Thursday.

I'll propose a toast "to Peace, Love and Understanding."


  1. I lightened up just about an hour after I wrote this...looking forward to seeing everyone tomorrow!

  2. What a complex and difficult story for anyone to navigate. I am amazed that you were able to lighten up. But thanksgiving is about giving thanks to all, and it sounds like you found that place inside yourself. It doesn't invalidate all the appropriate outrage you had earlier.

    Hoping it all went well.

  3. Thanksgiving was mostly great stuff - my cousin went with her boyfriend's family instead. She's still using heavily, angry at everything and behaving irrationally. She was, of course, invited to be with her family and made her choice freely. I'm thankful for that.

    My mom, who was so concerned about her, declined any opportunity to visit with her last week saying she was "too busy", and she still hasn't spoken to my aunt.

  4. Dysfunction continues at it's own pace. You seem to live your life to the fullest, and that's what counts in the long run.