Ask Ann Cannon: I want a relationship with my birth family, but they aren’t very nice

Ann Cannon

Dear Ann Cannon • I was a Hispanic daughter raised Irish. I met my birth father and grandma (from Puerto Rico) when I was 12. I have always known about them and often fantasized about meeting them. Upon meeting them for the first time, I was told I was too this and too that. As a teen I took and kept these hurtful thoughts in my heart of hearts.

Since then I have grown up. I own a home, own a car, and had a baby. As soon as he was born, the criticism started. He was too white at birth! Now (4 years later) he has long, long hair like his daddy. He does not want it cut, he wears it up, wears headbands, etc. I am constantly berated by this family that he will be beat up and get lice and look like a girl! This is their flesh and blood! How could they treat a little baby like that? I have always tried to be respectful to them, but they have stopped talking to me since he has not gotten his hair cut and is almost 5. I have sent presents and pictures for each holiday and my son painted a picture for his abuela for her 77th birthday. I also included a flash drive of over 100 pictures — my son labeled each one. She (my grandma) responded, saying she can’t view it as she only has an iPhone now as her computer.

I am hurt. I couldn’t tell my son she rejected his gift. What do I do, other than what I’m trying to do, to keep her and the rest of mi familia in the loop?

Lost Blanca Boriqua

Dear Lost • It’s a hard, hard thing to feel rejected by family. I’m so sorry that you’ve been hurt.

There’s more than one way to deal with your situation. You can, if you choose, keep doing what you’re doing. Or you can keep doing what you’re doing but decide not to let your family’s reactions upset you. Or you can tell your family they’ve hurt your feelings but still stay in touch. Or you can politely but firmly explain to your family that because they’ve been careless of your feelings, you’re going to back off for a while.

See what I mean? You have options.

I do think before you make any decisions about how to move forward, however, you should ask yourself some questions. Why exactly are you staying in touch, in spite of your family’s repeated unkind words and actions? On balance are there enough positives (that aren’t mentioned here) which make having a relationship with them worth it?

What do you hope to gain by staying in touch? Acceptance? Affection? Recognition? Respect? What if your family members never change their behavior? Are you OK with that?

Now. Back to your options. What you do is up to you, of course. But I think the fourth option might be the best choice … at least for now. While I always applaud serious efforts to cultivate and maintain family relationships, there are times when it’s best to step away from a toxic situation and focus, instead, on the healthy, nourishing relationships you can have instead. Acceptance, affection and respect should be two-way streets.

Here’s wishing you and your son all the best.

Meanwhile, I received this response to the woman whose family have stopped helping around the house …

I had a perfectionist friend, who complained her family never cleaned up after themselves. I suggested she show her boys how to wash/dry their clothes because, in the future due to missions/college, they would need to know how to wash/dry their clothes. Her reply was, “Oh no, I cannot have them ruining my appliances.” I suggested that she teach the family to place their dirty dishes in the dishwasher. Again, ”Oh no, I always have to rearrange after they put things in the dishwasher.” My friend could not see past her perfection to teach her family how to contribute to household job duties. My two cents!

Ann Cannon is The Tribune’s advice columnist. Got a question for Ann? Email her at askann@sltrib.com or visit the Ask Ann Cannon page on Facebook.