Friday, January 6, 2017

Honor Code

"So when are you planning on talking to Gramma?" A question that was asked with some urgency and continually pressed with more urgency by both my mother and my godfather. My answers range from "I know I need to do this" to "Soon." But the truth is always a lot more complicated than that. Just as most truths are.

Five years ago, when I made the decision to cease contact with my family as we were barreling towards our first round of IVF, I found myself having to make peace with a lot of different situations. I mourned the loss of my beloved godfather (my mother's youngest brother), of my father and my brother. My dad's younger brother too. But the women in my family, I was done with. My mom and sister, my aunts. But also with my grandmothers. My dad's parents were easy as my parents were still estranged. But my mom's mother was harder. Though it was clear she didn't understand, her continual refusal to act as matriarch and rein-in all the misbehavior of her children was the root cause for the ongoing issues. Even when confronted, it was clear she wasn't capable of making needed changes. And I was tired of it.

The problem comes in that my Gramma is now 80 yrs old and her health is rapidly declining. Add in the continual explanation that she doesn't understand why I would cut off contact and one gets a lovely stew: guilt and a sense of obligation stirred in with frustration and a feeling that empathy isn't part of the game.

Over the past couple of days, I've been thinking about all of this while also tackling the mountain of work around my new position. Classes start in under 2 weeks, so finalizing quizzes, section manuals and problem sets have been at the top of the list. Today, though, we talked about exams. And that's when I sat down to review the university's honor code. As I've been reviewing academic standards and a call uphold those by avoiding dishonest practices, I've found myself struggling emotionally. The familiar feelings of abandonment and pain surfacing when reflecting on why I haven't been able to call Gramma.

The problem comes in on two fronts. The first being that I don't feel I can be honest with my Gramma about why I made the decision to cut contact years ago. I big issue as that wall means that actual healing of our relationship really won't happen. The second is that I feel the big push for reconciliation really doesn't involve me at all, but instead is about the feelings and viewpoints of others.  In short, I'm being held to an Honor Code that is enforced only for a few. An ancient code that family connection trumps everything, especially during moments of life transition. Even if upholding that Code ultimately is unhealthy for all involved.

Honestly, I don't know exactly how to resolve these feelings. My gut is telling me to bite the bullet, call and lie through my teeth. Being very careful to admit nothing as I know it will ignite my mother and her siblings. The problem doing so also feels like it will further the divide. It gives me more leverage for why I don't want to expose the Beats to any of this. I never want them to feel this used.


  1. That is an impossibly hard situation. But I think knowing that this is about someone else and not you helps. When you do this act, you are doing it for the other person, similar to carrying someone else's groceries. Think about it this way: If a whiny old woman at the grocery store kept saying to you, "Carry my groceries to the car! You're a bad person if you don't," you would likely carry the groceries incredulously, understanding this is about her and not about you. You would do it because it would also bring you peace to just do the act and be done vs. thinking about how you didn't do it when you got home, even though it would be completely understandable if you didn't. Does this make any sense? Just think of it like an obligation you do for another person despite the fact that they're requesting your help in the most obnoxious way possible. And then you know you did what you needed to do and it's done. I wouldn't say that for every situation, but in this case, because it's occupying your mind, I would figuratively carry the groceries to the car, and then walk away shaking your head and go back to interacting in normal relationships like being with the twins.

  2. Honor codes are there to protect the members of a community. And it doesn't sound like that's the case for your family, who isn't interested in everyone's well-being. The only reason to pick up the phone here is for you, so that you can walk away once and for all feeling untethered by this obligation. Which isn't to contradict Mel, because it isn't ABOUT you, per se, but about taking care of a lunatic, knowing they're a lunatic. Whatever you decide to do, take care. We're here, and we'll cheer you on either way. (BTW, I wonder if we now have a friend in common ... we should talk offline.)

  3. I was going to say something along the lines of Mel, but based on dealings with the elderly, including those suffering dementia. I've found that as people age and become more infirm, they become extremely focused on themselves - and incapable of doing anything else. This was a source of grief for me with my mother, simply because I knew she was no longer capable of thinking about me. I am less concerned/more empathetic with seeing this progression in my in-laws and aunts and uncles. It is in some ways freeing, in that I can focus on them, and ignore anything about me, because I know none of it iss about me. It's them, their age, their declining capabilities, their disease, or their history - none of which they can do anything about.

    So I guess I am saying, follow your instincts. They are good.

  4. This is so tough. I think you have to do what you feel is right for you, and the Beats, and your own nuclear your extended family has not done right by you. I'm sorry you are being used and manipulated. If the Code is unhealthy, it doesn't justify holding to it, especially at a time of high stress when you are getting into a new position. I'll be thinking of you.

  5. I don't know exactly what Grandma did, but I think Mali said it perfectly. As people age, they get self-centred & they get CRANKY. It's almost as if they become toddlers all over again, in some respects. I saw it with my own grandparents, & I am seeing it now as my parents enter their late 70s, as well as with FIL in his late 80s. I get annoyed with them sometimes, but I try to remember that (a) they're not going to change at this late stage of the game, & (b) it's not like I have to deal directly with them every day -- it's a couple of days, a couple of times a year when we visit, and a weekly phone call, and that keeps them happy and relieves my conscience. ;) Of course, this is me & my family, an your own mileage may vary. ;)

  6. You have some really good insight and advice here. Especially with what Mail says, "follow your instincts. They are good."


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