Brittany Simonic is our 2020 Stout Law Firm Scholarship Essay recipient! Please see the essay she wrote below.
The term “family” is a group of people who share a legal or blood bond (Mayntz). Traditionally, family is considered a unit in which its members practice love without boundaries. We teach our children early that family sticks together no matter what. However, in toxic family structures, “phrases like ‘family first’ and ‘unconditional love’ are used as weapons to keep us tied together regardless of abuse” (Star). Children depend on their families for survival and, in learning to survive sadistic situations, can become rewired to interpret abuse as love, promising shaky self-perception and toxic relationships in adulthood. Therefore, I’ve redefined family as a structure of nourishment wherein lies boundaries and balance amongst people bonded by affinity rather than blood.
The walls of my childhood conceal different types of abuse. My mother and father were both physically, mentally, and sexually abusive parental figures. Where a home should have been stood a hole in the wall where pain, secrets, and suppression crammed inside like sardines. I cleaned up my mother’s blood and tears at the hands of my father and watched as she cheerfully folded his laundry. My younger siblings and I were manipulated to unconditionally love people who never “unconditionally loved” us- this was what “family” meant to me for over 20 years until I became a mother. I’ve since established solid boundaries from my family and, in doing so, learned that my dissuasion and distance with them do not mean that I don’t unconditionally love them.
The stigma surrounding blood bonds can make a person feel dangerously obligated to accept poor treatment. This toxic virtue must be redefined; we become so preoccupied with the idea of loyalty that we lose sight of morality- so lost in loving others that we forget to love ourselves. However, “if we don’t give, we find it hard to receive, and if we can’t receive, we don’t really have much to give” (Vader). Trying to pour from an empty cup is not serving anyone at all.
My previous convictions about what “love” and “family” are have changed and I’m wiser to what both should feel like. My home now is a safe place where my family respects, listens to, and protects one another. There is laughter, restful nights, and space to be and grow. As author Roland Merullo writes, “all you can do…is decide which of your demons are harmless and which are really trouble, and then find the courage to wrestle with the latter group…if you can put up a dam in the DNA and block such things from being passed down, then…you can die in peace” (50).
While family may be traditionally defined as blood or legal relatives who employ the equivocal concept of unconditional love, I challenge this idea because healthy love should have boundaries. My experiences have taught me that some of your worst enemies share your genes, while some of the best family you’ll ever have start out as strangers.
Mayntz, Melissa. “Definitions of Family.” LoveToKnow, LoveToKnow Corp, family.lovetoknow.com/definition-family.
Merullo, Roland. Breakfast with Buddha. Thorndike Press, 2008.
Star, Tamara. “Why Divorcing a Family Member Might Be an Act of Unconditional Love.” HuffPost, HuffPost, 7 Dec. 2017, www.huffpost.com/entry/life-lessons_b_4406417.
Vader, Ken. “Improving Family Relationships With Emotional Intelligence.” Improving Family Relationships With Emotional Intelligence – HelpGuide.org, www.helpguide.org/articles/mental health/improving-family-relationships-with-emotional-intelligence.htm.