It’s almost time for Family Weekend, when excited moms and dads make their annual pilgrimage to SMU to visit their faraway children. There are brunches galore where collegiettes share mimosas with their moms. Students teach their parents how we boulevard. Hugs are exchanged and homesickness rushes away.
And then there is me, sitting by myself, knowing that not only did my parents not bother to come to family weekend, but I didn’t even invite them.
I grew up in an emotionally abusive family. My parents were as far away from supportive as one could be, questioning my every choice, telling me I wasn’t enough, forcing me to be their ideal woman and picking apart my body and my mind. For eighteen years, I couldn’t feel safe in my own home. I came home from school every day not knowing whether a doting parent awaited me or whether I should anticipate my roaring father behind the door. I was afraid of being thrown out of the house and yet constantly searched for my parents’ approval. So, when the opportunity and the scholarship money flooded in that would allow me to move four states away from my family, I took it.
I’ve been around the block at SMU. I have experienced my share of Family Weekends, and I have only invited my parents to two. My mother has visited me both of those times, and since I moved to Dallas, my father has never made the journey to SMU to see me. I don’t want them here, and even though I know they are trying their hardest to be better parents, I don’t think they really want to see me either. I don’t want to spend a whole weekend with the people I have tried my hardest to avoid the last few years. If I don’t feel safe going home for the summer, I certainly don’t want to invite them into my safe space that I’ve created for myself. They spend the weekend sniping at me, judging where I live, the classes I’ve chosen to take, and whether or not I’m dating someone. They ask pointed questions about if I “really think that major will lead to a job someday.” They comment on every pound I’ve gained and snidely ask if I’m getting my money’s worth with the meal plan. They grill every one of my friends that they meet, trying to see if my buddies are good enough people and making them squirm under the pressure. I’ve invited them to be a part of my life, and time and time again, they have proved that they cannot be trusted to take part.
Your family isn’t always the people you’re related to. The most important thing I’ve learned in college is that you create your own family. You carve out your own space and you use that to find out who really cares about you. I’ve found that the people who are there for me may not be my parents, but they are my friends who will spend the night with me, stroking my back while I cry.
But I can’t help but feel upset when I see the Instagram posts and crowds of happy moms and dads. I can’t help but feel pangs of regret when my friends take their parents to brunch on a Sunday and I go to work. I’ve made my peace with the fact that I don’t have the idyllic family, but I can’t help but feel jealous when I see the people who have it.
I want to tell you that it will be okay. I want to tell you that your family doesn’t define you. I want to tell you that this weekend will pass. And while that is all true to some extent, I won’t lie—if you don’t feel safe around your parents, this weekend is going to be rough. But it is just one weekend. As much as people tell you that “family is forever” and “you can’t quit family” and other meaningless platitudes, you are not required to believe that. Sometimes, family is something that we create for ourselves. I haven’t found the balance yet. I have one more Family Weekend left, and I know that I will spend it sulking and wishing that my family was happy. I still don’t quite know how to make it through. From the first two weekends where I invited my parents to join in and they ruined it, to the next four where I spent it alone, I know that it can be hard either way. But what I do know is that Family Weekend after monotonous Family Weekend, I have somehow made it through. Time may trudge by for this one weekend, but the rest of your college experience is what you make it. It is not for your parents to dictate, and no family background should halt you from making the choices that are right for you.