Phew. The past few posts have been tough to re-live. Birth story coming soon, I promise. But first, a little digression.
Last week, I spent 24 hours or so dealing with a troll or, perhaps, someone who was behaving in a trollish fashion. One of my regular readers did a great job of responding to the initial comments, but the response from the trollish commenter convinced me that it would be best to remove the entire string. That removal brought on another nasty comment, which was also deleted.
Sigh. Okay, folks. This may be a semi-public space, but ultimately, it is my blog and I have the right to set the rules. The rules are simple: Play nice. You don't have to agree with me (life would be very boring if everyone did), but you do have to present your viewpoints in a respectful fashion. Comments that are respectful on their face but have the clear underlying purpose of starting/continuing a fight or hurting someone will be treated as if they were disrespectful. I won't ban anyone outright unless they become a repeat offender. Sorry to have to get all police-action on y'all, since 99% of you are lovely respectful humans. I just needed to let the random rotten apples know that they're not welcome in this here barrel.
I've had many people over the years want to use my blog or the comment section as a platform for their own personal agenda. An obvious example would be the seemingly endless stream of authors with books for me to review, or commercial product marketers, event planners, etc. wanting to use my blog to reach my readers. I look at each of those requests on a case-by-case basis. As I'm not trying to make a living from my blog or drive traffic here, 9 times out of 10 I will decline these requests or simply ignore them. Another example that may not be so obvious is when I've written something about a person I know in real life and they want to present a different point of view or otherwise respond directly to my readers. My response has always been that I never use any real names on this blog (unless a person is Famous with a capital F), so the only way my readers would care that I was talking about you specifically is if that reader has a personal relationship with us both. In that case, the would-be guest blogger's best bet would be to approach our mutual friends directly to correct or clarify my statements. Don't get me wrong -- if I've presented something as fact, and I learn that I was wrong, I will try to edit my post or present a later clarification. I'm not here to slander anyone. But if you just don't like what I wrote about you or the fact that I said it at all? Tough luck. Ultimately, this is my space to vent and work through things that bug me. That means that, although I endeavor to be honest with my readers and with myself, issues will always be presented from my point of view. I know that there are many bloggers who provide a forum for their critics in their blogs, or who provide a space for commenters to engage in verbal fisticuffs, but this is not that type of blog. Sorry 'bout that.
Interestingly, one of the things the troll seemed focused on was a distinction that my other commenters have drawn between my nuclear family (me, the Mister and the kids) versus my extended family (in-laws, cousins, etc.). In the troll's view, family is family is family, and carving any of them out for special treatment is a selfish American approach. I can't speak to the "selfish American" bit, but I've long believed in the concept of Chosen Family, and that concept most specifically allows for -- and even expects that -- genetic ties are not the be-all, end-all. I have several blood relatives who are miserable hateful human beings, and I have purposely cut all ties with them. Life is too short to try to mend fences with those who are only interested in destruction. Similarly, I have chosen to limit contact with other family members whose personal issues, politics, or religious beliefs are so intense that they color every interaction we have with a negative light. Again, life is too short.
Instead, I have built my Chosen Family with friends and relatives who leave me energized, happy or comforted. Those are the people who will always be welcome on my blog, in my home, around my children, and in my life. Relatives start out in my Chosen Family by default, and then -- through their words and actions -- earn the right to stay or be kicked out. Occasionally they hop back and forth over the fence until they fall firmly onto one side or the other. Do I tell them when this happens? Sometimes. Depends on the circumstances. It's not a formal thing. It's not like there is a list. It's just that feeling in my gut that says "oh, I miss my cousin, I wish I saw her more often" or "good grief, I can't stand being around this uncle, I'm so glad we only see him once a decade."
I've seen some of my friends -- particularly those who were raised in very traditional religious families -- suffer greatly because they are completely incapable of distancing themselves from toxic family members. They believe that family is family, no matter how horribly any given family member may behave. Family members who are rude, vicious, or perpetually thoughtless are still invited to important occasions, even though you know they're going to create a scene or say something hurtful. And because "family is family," these friends of mine continue to open their hearts to these people, hoping that each time will be different, believing -- against all evidence to the contrary -- that these toxic folks will change. And they get hurt each and every time.
I think creating for oneself the additional category of Chosen Family and then setting appropriate boundaries for people who don't fall into that category provides a great deal of mental relief, and I wish for my friends that they could embrace this concept. Unlike the troll, however, I would never call them names for not doing so. Because, y'know, that would put me in the category of "toxic," and I love my friends too much to put them under that kind of stress. I want to remain in their Chosen Family, whether they believe in the concept or not.
Now that I am parenting two children who are not genetically related to me, my nuclear family is, by definition, a Chosen Family. The Mister and I chose to make a life together, and we chose to parent these particular kids. They are not just a random combination of our genes that the universe haphazardly threw at us -- we had to look at each individual child and say "Yes, I want to parent this specific kid." Sure, I happened to give birth to one of them, but it was a clear and careful choice to become pregnant with this particular child through this particular means, knowing that there would be no blood ties between us after the umbilical cord was severed.
The kids, of course, didn't get to choose us as parents, which means that if I want to remain part of their Chosen Family, I need to behave accordingly. As they grow into young adults, I will consciously watch my Ps and Qs, providing the best parenting I can, while being careful not to exceed boundaries that push me into Helicopter Parent or Judgemental Parent or one of the other many Toxic Parent recipes I've seen. Of course, I'll make mistakes along the way, but I will try to learn from them and try to adjust my behavior accordingly. In the end, of course, who they choose to remain close to will be their decision. I have never believed that kids owe anything to their parents simply because the parents brought them into the world. Kids always have the right to choose their own paths and create their own Chosen Family when they grow up, and if I'm lucky enough to be included on that journey and in that family, it will be my great good luck.
So, to my lovely troll, who asserts that our carefully-chosen little nuclear family is the same as our extended family, and that we should treat family as family, no matter what, I can only respond -- absolutely not. No fracking way. Not in a million years. It's my job as a parent to protect my kids from toxic folks where I can. Thus, my Very Hostile Libertarian Uncle Who Only Spews Negativity is never going to meet my kids. He made that bed long ago and has made it clear that he intends to remain right there under the mud-covered sheets. And if other family members want to throw themselves on the "Not Chosen Family" list, that's their call. If a blood relative attacks someone in my nuclear family, my first loyalty will always be to the person in my nuclear family, because they are the core members of my Chosen Family. Period, end of story. I can only hope and trust that the Mister will do the same. Sure, from time to time, the Mister and I may need to arm-wrestle over which boundaries to draw or who to draw them around, but under no circumstances will anyone get to climb onto the Chosen Family bus just because they are "family," particularly not with regard to my kids. And if someone has truly lost their footing by accident and fallen off of the bus, then they need to do something to earn their ticket back on. If it was truly accidental, the cost should be minimal. Too tough, you say? Sorry, but them's the rules.
I am Mama Bear. Hear me roar.