I had my first baby at 17. I heard the whispers. I was “just like my mother.” I married youngagain, “just like my mother.” And when I left my marriage after 10 years, broken and bruised, there was no sympathyagain only the mention that I was “like my mother.”

I accepted that notion, for a while.

Truth be told, it was easier to believe that my misfortune was genetic, rather than a result of my behavior and environment. But the fact was, that wasn’t so. That realization hit me at my son’s eleventh birthday party.

My family was present, as was my exes. And chaos ensued.

My son’s dad and I were having a discussion. It probably could have been described as healthy discord. But my own mother joined in, and tempers flared. Hearing the chaos, his mom weighed in too. And before you knew it, four adults were screaming at a child’s birthday party.

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A family friend stepped in to deescalate things. With her hands on my shoulders, she asked me what happened? Through gritted teeth, I explained, “It’s just how my family is.”

But then she asked something nobody ever had. Is this how I wanted my family to be? And, of course, I said no.

Then, with the words “Then do something,” she challenged me to change it.

And then and there, I did.

I turned to my parents and his parents and everyone in the room. And more confidently than I’d probably ever spoken I said, “We’re here to celebrate Bentley. If you can’t do that peacefully and alongside everyone else, I need you to go home.”

Because what I realized at that moment is that nobody gets a pass because they’re family, and that saying, “that’s just how they are” lets people sidestep responsibility. And by letting people do that, I wasn’t just giving them permission to mistreat me, but I was teaching my children that this kind of craziness was normal.

My world didn’t change that day. But it started to.

A foundation was laid with what I’d later learn was “a boundary.” And that boundary was “if you disturb my peace or stand in the way of who I want to be, then you don’t get access to me.” And why should you? What sense does it make to keep someone who causes you emotional harm around?

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And there a generational curse was broken.

Just as people are allowed to say “it runs in the family,” you’re allowed to say “this is where it runs out.”

And you should.

When you know better, you do better.  

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