Welcome to Ms. Opinionated, our weekly advice column dealing with questions of life, love, feminism, and pop culture. Submit your anonymous questions here. This week, Nicole Georges counsels a reader on dealing with loneliness and a critical family (and draws her a picture!).
Dear Ms. Opinionated,
I'm not sure how to balance having healthy relationships, and limiting my contact with people who make me upset, with the fact that I'm really lonely right now. There are several people in my life who make me upset, angry, self-conscious, or defensive. For example, my dad is incredibly fat-phobic and body conscious, and expresses this by commenting on my body every time I visit. I put on a bathing suit on a hot day this past weekend, and when I walked out I could feel him judging me.
My sister, who is 14 years older than me, also makes me upset, and yet I can't find a way to stop talking to her. She wants to tell me that I don't cook my eggs right, that I don't raise my daughter right. When I talk to her on the phone she tells me stories about work that I don't agree with at all. But the thing is, there's nothing she likes more than arguing, so the last few times I've confronted her about advice, we got into hours-long arguments that left me weeping and upset for days.
I'm finishing up a graduate school program and have decided to stay at home with my daughter because I love it and I have the privilege of having a partner who makes just enough money to make it possible. This is the first time in my life--after devoting all my time to doing well in school—that I've really allowed myself to do what I want to do and follow my interests. No one except my youngest sister and partner accept me as a stay-at-home-mom together with and my intellectual and political interests. Some of my old friends do, but they live far away. My family never acted like staying at home was an option and they sort of passively ignore that I'm doing it now. Some friends have been great, but I have one friend that aggressively talks about why it's the wrong decision whenever I see her. I've stopped seeing her much because I don't look forward to hearing about how I'm doing things wrong.
Lonely and Fed Up
Dear Lonely and Fed Up,
I am excited for you to have a larger friend-group and chosen family/community so that you may put less emphasis on your biological family.
ADVICE PART I: FRIENDS
It may take time for you to find your people, so in the meantime I suggest you put a piecemeal a friend life together.
Remember that you do have old friends who understand you, they are just far away. Please reach out to them! Reach out and let them know how much you love them, how much they mean to you. Ask what is going on with them. Show interest in their lives before you lay out your troubles. These people know you, they love you, and you already speak the same (feminist) language. It may not be as good as having dinner together, but it's still something.
In person, I encourage you not to underestimate the stay-at-home moms you meet. They may not look like they share the same cultural reference-points as you, but it doesn't mean they aren't critical thinkers or able to be good friends to you in other ways. Give them a shot. Try throwing in a feminist or queer phrase here or there. They may not be as uptight as you think. Even if the moms in your community end up not being the ones for you to discuss radical politics with, they can still be people who you find enough commonality with to call when you fear for your child's health, or if you just want to gossip.
While you are appreciating the moms around you and the old friends from afar, I want you to look on the internet for new friends via mama websites.In Portland we have Hip Mama magazine and UrbanMamas.com.
Here’s another idea: Try and host a radical parent's meetup in your community. What is the worse that could happen? No one shows up? Or one person does? You're left with an extra batch of cookies that no one ate? That's better than what you have now, because at least you tried. Maybe there are other radical parents in your town, just like you, waiting for someone to say the word Go.
More ideas: Volunteer once a month at a feminist or queer organization. This is how I meet people in new towns, by getting involved in something. Take your daughter along with you if you need to. I volunteer at a Senior Citizen day center and people bring in toddlers from time to time. The old ladies love it, the kids get showered in stale candy, and you know what? Those geriatric women playing BINGO are so much cooler than most of the people I meet on a day-to-day basis. They have LIVED, and they have a very refreshing "Fuck It" mentality about people who aren't worth their time.
What I am saying is, you may not find the perfect friend fit, but at this particular (lonely) time, you may want to open it up and be willing to accept all sorts of friends into your life.
ADVICE PART II: FAMILY
You absolutely do not need to talk with your dad or your sister all the time if they are bumming you out.
HOWEVER, since they are your family, I would encourage you to be clear with them about why you are taking space if that is what you need to do.
Have you ever heard of the phrase "detach with love"? It's real. It means that instead of just swallowing all of this anger and resentment you have for your father and sister, and growing a tree of anger that results in you icing them out of your life, you need to take responsibility for your feelings in these uncomfortable moments and speak up. Let them know what you need.
Lovingly give them an opportunity to do right by you.
If they screw it up, you can take this as information and decide what to do from there. . It's nothing personal.
Here’s a way to start that conversation. "Dad,” you say, “I really can't listen to your evaluations of my body every time I see you. I am actually very healthy, so I don't need you to mention it. If you keep commenting on my weight, I'm going to have to start wearing a snuggie when I see you, or take some space, because it is making me feel anxious."
No matter how your dad responds, or what feelings he has, your bottom line is the same. You can even repeat it: If he doesn't change or keep himself in check, then you know that you won't be wearing a bathing suit around your dad any more.
But he knows it, too. It's not a mysterious, passive aggressive thing. It's matter of fact, and not tied to anger.
Dad: "Let's go swimming."
You: "Sorry dad, I can't go swimming with you because I can't handle your critiques. I'd love to go roller skating with you, though."
There’s something you need to do, too: Can you accept and love your father and sister as they are? Can you give it an "Oh, You!" sitcom spin instead of a judge's gavel and powdered wig? It will help you feel better about yourself when you understand that they are just acting out their personalities. It's nothing personal. It is REALLY nothing personal. Your dad feels entitled to tell people what he thinks of their bodies, and your sister is going to complain about her job in ways that are annoying to you. Your options here are to tell them it makes you uncomfortable, shift the conversation, or stop seeing them.
I think that the in-between, shifting the conversation and taking control a little bit, could offer you the acceptance you need without compromising your own integrity. I
I know you are feeling that you are a deficit right now, Lonely and Fed up, but I (your personal Pollyanna) see an abundance of people and opportunities around you.
P.S. In regards to people the judgment of your decision to be a stay-at-home mom, FUCK THAT.
It's none of their business, and it's definitely not their job to give you their opinion. I recommend you conjure a patronus of a pit bull wearing a spiked collar to start growling when those people put their nose into your parenting business.