Avoiding my family


I was raised by my father (now deceased) and stepmother. (My mother is a recovering alcoholic – I spent time with her as a child, but my dad/stepmom were primary caregivers). Both mother & father had kids with second marriages.

Growing up, I found my stepmother to be very challenging. Tough to please, very critical, extremely difficult to live with, etc. I (along with my brother & half sister, her daughter, all tried to please her & often would avoid her). This pattern is still going on. I will call my stepmother to check in on occasion – maybe 2x month (I can still hear my father’s void that I need to ‘be nice’) – but I have taken a number of steps over the years to create more distance (for instance, I used to always travel home for Thanksgiving holiday – a couple of years ago, I started hosting my own). But overall, I try to minimize my time with her. When I do call, I tend to ask questions about how she is doing, but try to keep my own news, etc., a bit more ‘vanilla.’

As a kid, I didn’t feel safe around her and I see myself still falling into those patterns. I should add that I am married, have 2 kids and a great life in so many ways. But the family relationships, including her, feel subpar. I do know she had a tough childhood, she wants nothing more than to have a close family. I find that she drives me away.

A few weeks ago, she told he she was diagnosed with breast cancer. The good news is that it is very early stage, but she is scared and justifiably so. But where I go is – I am not dealing with this person. I don’t care. Leave me alone. Her daughter (my half sister) also can’t deal with her, but lives nearby my stepmother. My thinking is, ‘let my sister deal with her, my stepmother is her mother.’ To make matters more interesting – my sister is alot like her. So those two have conflict in their relationship.

So my overall approach is to avoid them. My issue right now is about my stepmother and her cancer. Avoiding someone in this situation feels like a shitty thing to do. So I try not to avoid her. I call to see how she’s doing and I go right back to feeling like crap every time I get off the phone with this person.

This dynamic has been going on too long. So I’d like to be at peace with this relationship. But my solution to being ‘at peace’ is to avoid this person. I guess what I am really saying is “The only way to be at peace with this person is to avoid them.” So my current model seems to be this:

C – my stepmother was diagnosed with breast cancer
T – she expects me to help her, but I want to avoid her
F – dread that she will call me and tell me I’m terrible for avoiding her
A – avoid her calls
R – not help or take action

I am trying to better understand ‘the manual’ concept and apply it here. I know avoiding is not the best approach, but how do I handle this situation?