One of my favorite pastimes, I’ve recently learned, is trash-talking Mark Zuckerberg, whom I like to call Markie Zee. Maybe it’s because he seems a little arrogant or because I’m completely addicted to his time-suck of a website. Or it could even be that I’m jealous that he’s a kajillionaire and that his startup is bigger than mine. Regardless of all of my ambivalence toward Markie Zee, I have to thank him for one thing: reconnecting me with my extended family.
Way before Al Gore invented the Internet, my parents split up. For me, as a 12- going on 13-year-old, it wasn’t just a split. It was a fracture of seismic and catastrophic proportions, one that I’ve never fully recovered from. Sure, there was the poverty, abandonment, neglect, abuse, pregnancy, alcoholism, and everything else you can imagine. Yet there was also another heartbreaking aspect of divorce that you don’t hear enough about, and that’s the complete loss of contact with your extended family. But Markie Zee changed all that.
In the last few years, I’ve heard from cousins I haven’t seen since my bat mitzvah. With just a few clicks, I’m eagerly roaming their pages and images, searching for clues about who they’ve become in the last 26 years. Do they have families of their own now, where do they live, and do they even want me in their lives again? These are just the first in a torrent of questions I ask myself as I glean whatever information I can from their Facebook profiles.
Although I’m thrilled about having my extended family back in my life, I’m also petrified. What if they reject me, blame me, or judge me for some of the choices I’ve made? What if reestablishing ties to them brings back too much pain from a past I’ve spent decades trying to overcome? Will they toss me aside, much like my own parents did?
Over the years, here’s what I’ve learned about adult children of divorce: We’re supposed to keep our mouths shut and move on. Especially if we’re doing pretty well, like I am, we’re expected to “get over the past” and remember that “everyone suffers during a divorce.” When we're kids, we're also at the mercy of our parents, who determine when and if we'll still spend time with extended family. In my case, there were no more week-long vacations on Long Island, no goofy antics at Passover Seders and no mourning a dear Aunt when she died of cancer and I was forbidden from attending the funeral.
Talk to anyone you know who has experienced their parents' split, particularly the nasty breakups, and you'll know that getting over the past is impossible. Even more, it’s an insult to everything we’ve endured (turns out, there is something worse than a horrible childhood; it's being told, by your family, to "get over it"). From friendships to partnerships to parenthood, all of our relationships are deeply impacted by how we were loved, or not loved, by the people who put us on this earth and were given the responsibility of caring for us. When they screw up, when they fail to meet even our basic need to be loved, the scars are there forever, no matter how hard you try to cover them up.
But now there’s Facebook, a place where you can connect with your past, with all of its heartiness and heartbreaks. You can peruse old pictures of yourself, ones that family members are eager to post and tag, like the one right here on this page that my first cousin uploaded. You can also rebuild certain branches of the family tree, the ones that have suffered from years of disuse. You can only hope that they'll grow back just as strong as they once were or as strong as you need them to be to hold you aloft.
~By Wendy Widom, Families in the Loop
The pic is of me, circa 1980, at my Aunt and Uncle's house. I saw them and their kids only a handful of times after my parents' breakup.