Last year my extended family decided they didn’t want to exchange gifts with us. That is, each of their three families didn’t want to choose one little gift each for two people, me and my mom. They decided instead to do a name drawing and each give a gift to one person. Each family would still be giving two gifts, but some of them might be going to someone they already exchange gifts with on Christmas Day. I declined to participate. I had every intention of going ahead and giving everyone a gift, because gift-giving is one of my skills and something I find joy in. However, I became unemployed right before Christmas and ended up only giving gifts to my cousins’ three children.
This year the extended family has decided to eliminate gifts for the adults altogether, and just give gifts to the children. My mom is resentful of this. As she puts it, we’ll be giving gifts to “their family” but they won’t be giving gifts to “our family”. Every time she brings this up, what I feel is shame. What she’s really saying is that we’re getting cheated out of something because I don’t have children, and as an only child that means she doesn’t have grandchildren.
I feel shame that there’s something wrong with me for not being able to get past my anxiety to find a romantic relationship. I feel shame that I don’t feel I’m capable of being a good mother. I feel shame that I fear the risks of having a baby, both in terms of my own stability and in terms of potentially passing the bipolar disorder along.
It’s not that I don’t want these things. I desperately do. I would love to be a normal person with a normal life and a normal family. I just don’t foresee this ever being possible for me. So whenever mom talks wistfully about the fact that her brother has grandchildren and she does not, it’s like I’m getting stabbed in the heart. I’m sorry I’m a disappointment to her. I’m sorry I inherited mental illness from that other side of the family, the one I was raised apart from. I’m sorry that it’s a constant reminder of a past she’d rather forget.