Don’t Judge Me Because I’m Not Close With My Family

In his epic novel, Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy penned one of the most captivating opening lines in literature. It is often translated as, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

Whether or not you agree with this statement, it is a fascinating thought to ponder. It is a line that begs readers to consider the institution of family with nuance and complexity. Of all human relationships, family is the one that is most complicated, yet so commonly simplified.

But family is not the greatest of human relationships. It has the potential to be. Arbitrarily letting familial influences in your life because they are “family” doesn’t make sense.

Last fall, I left my parent’s home on a random Monday morning around 6 a.m. In that hour, I identified that place as being an abusive situation. While my parents had their regular morning session of prayer and Bible reading, I packed up a suitcase and left for work, not knowing where I was sleeping that night. I don’t blame them for my leaving. It is, and will always be, their home. They can operate in it as they feel fit. I just knew personally that I wasn’t going to subject myself to sustained attempts at emotional abuse. So I left.

Since that time, I have had to explain my ambivalence to my parents. The consensus from those who discuss the issue with me, with few facts or knowledge of my family dynamics, conclude, “Robert, apologize.” It is almost reflex to people who hear my story.

Somehow, my immaturity, my pride, my stubbornness, are what has kept me from their table in the months since. My response usually involves my general aversion to breaking bread with people who call me a “pawn of Satan” because of the “demonic forces” in my life usually quiets down the forgiveness talking point.

Understanding relationships, of all varieties, demands more consideration than simple talking points. If life was like Sim City, it might be easy to leave an abusive boyfriend. If life was like Sim City, it might be easier to call an estranged parent on Father’s Day. But humans aren’t at their best when we follow programmed mottoes for a happy life. Evaluating others’ relationships based on these talking points is both irresponsible and, at times, cruel.

Commitment to family isn’t demonstrated by blindly opening your emotions, health, and time to individuals whose commitment to you was genetically determined. The beauty of family is when people make a choice to honor each other’s physical and emotional health.

Judging a person’s date-ability, their capacity for friendship, or their personality based on their relationship with their family is irresponsible. D

on’t whittle down the dynamics of family to archaic or idealistic notions of what all families are. Every relationship is at its best when participants make a choice to build it up. Love is not at its best when it is given, and expected to be reciprocated, by default. Family is no different. Therefore, respect people’s ability to decide what role family ought to have in their lives. TC mark

image – Ian Grainger


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  • Meg

    I agree completely and I hate being judged by it as well. My dad is dead, my mom is mentally ill and abusive and my sister is emotionally distant. Excuse me for struggling to have a perfect relationship with these three. 

  • Rishtopher

    Well said. I feel like saying that you aren’t close with your family is a way of saying “I’m have deep, deep personal issues” to everyone who gets along with theirs. My interactions with my family aren’t the only things that define me as a person.

  • bee

    I wish I could hand this to every adult I ever come in contact with who makes snap judgements about me.  In high school, I would frequently hang out at my boyfriend’s house for multiple reasons.  1) I liked hanging out with my boyfriend (which is, apparently, some sort of crime); 2) his family was wonderful; and 3) because I did not wish to be at either of my two ‘homes’.  However, this has lead parents (his, and my current boyfriend’s) to eventually judge me for it.  “Doesn’t she have her own home?  I bet her family misses seeing her.  Where does she live, anyway?  Is it even a respectable place, or – god forbid – an apartment?”
    But it is completely inaccurate.  While I wasn’t physically abused by either of my parents, nor my stepfather, I was neglected – which is technically a form of abuse.  This lead to some rather unhealthy relationships in my teens, sure, but I was very responsible.  I wasn’t a ‘slut’ (like my current boyfriend’s mother claims [and I don’t believe a woman should constantly be on the defense regarding her sexual relationships]), I have never had alcohol/tobacco/drugs, I am paying my own way through college, I am a full-time volunteer, and I am a ballet dancer.
    It is appalling to me that people jump to such harsh conclusions about me simply because I do not have a desire to interact with my family.  We simply have never been emotionally close.  We don’t talk.  My father’s house is always silent, and my mother’s house is full of screaming.  I just prefer to stay away and forge my own path.  If adults refuse to acknowledge that, refuse to support me, and accuse me of being immature or irresponsible, so be it.  But it does make my ambivalence towards adults that much more difficult to get over, which is sad.
    Oh, and one last note.  It’s really irritating when my peers assume I am just like them.  As if my non-communication with my parents is the same as their “right?! it’s so good to be free from their silly over-protection, the rules, the support.  I just wanna be ME, ya know?”  I don’t know.. I can relate to the independence, and yet I feel as if we’re from different planets. 

  • Arbie Baguios


  • Rob T Firefly

    THANK you.  Thank you so hard for this.

    • Robert Wohner

      Hey, I’ll admit, this kind of writing isn’t really my style but I do definitely feel some peace having written it out and even more so that it could speak to other people as well. So thank you!

  • Shane Reynolds

    Last statement is absolutely correct. I love my family, but feel as though they’re choices have held them back all of their lives and too much of their influence will have the same effect on me. Being the baby in the family and having an older sister who’s been independent all of her life, they just think I’ll never be able to make my own decisions like I’m some mentally challenged child. My distance from them is what keeps me loving them.

  • bep

    What a great piece!
    I especially connect with this:  “Judging a person’s date-ability, their capacity for friendship, or their
    personality based on their relationship with their family is
    It’s as if being close with your family somehow makes you a better potential partner.  And it’s just not true.  Another dating myth created to make people feel unworthy.
    Thank you for sharing your story!

  • Joseph Brillantes

     It all depends on the culture… Asian/Mediterranean/etc culture place so much value on family

  • Jredona

    Thank you so much for this article and thank you also to those of you who have replied above. I struggle with my elective estangement from my family. Ironic how the burder of my families mental issues and bad behavior has been placed on me. I always have to explain why I don’t see my family. While private, I feel obligated to explain. A full explanation is too intimate and elicits sympathy (yuck). Of course I feel self-conscious especially because I have many effed-up family members. But, I’ve realized that dysfunctional families are just that sometimes: a whole entire family. Now if I could just get better at changing the subject or refining a conversation-stopping answer.

  • Kirsten G.

    My family caused a lot of hurt. As hard as it was to walk from them and it WAS hard, I’m so much happier with life and the world around me now. Saying I’m not close with my family does seem to affect my dating life because apparently it means I’m sub-human. I made my friends my family. We support each other and look out for one another…which is what family is SUPPOSED to do. I much rather choose my family than be obligated because of blood when we don’t mesh at all.

  • Vanessa

    Coming from an amazing, supportive, emotionally healthy family, I have to admit I’ve been prejudice, EXTREMELY prejudice against those who say ‘they’re not close’ with their family, simply because I could not imagine not being close with mine.   This is most prevalent in my dating life, where I was looking for a partner who has a similar relationship with their family, not realizing some might, with their friends who they consider family.  Thank you for writing this article and making me see that not only was I prejudice, but also blind and ‘irresponsible.’     I can only hope that I can change it for the future.  

    • Robert Wohner

      This is really interesting comment and I’m really glad you shared it. When I think about it, I’ve only dated women that were REALLY close with their families. I never could understand it! I couldn’t imagine the impulse to call a parent at random and talk about random nothings or tell them our business or want to just hang out with them or whatever. Because I just never had that. Secretly, I realize I was probably jealous but I tried to pretend like it was weird or different and I’d tease them about it. So I’ve had to change my thinking on that too and learn to honor those relationships. Because families can be absolutely special and I’m glad to have known people whose families made them the adults they turned out to be. So let’s try to both have a slightly more open mind. Thanks again!

      • Vanessa

         Robert, it’s a deal!   After reading your response I had to add that, the opposite of your post has happened to me a number of times…being judged because I AM close with my family.  I’ve had boyfriends (and some friends) question why I speak to my parents at least once every other day and typically have dinner with them (willingly) at least once a week.   Looking back, I had more than one boyfriend who considered me and my family weird for being so happy to hang out and interact with each other.  However, in retrospect they had relationships with their own families that were less than stellar.  I guess we’re all so ingrained and used to our own family situations that it’s often hard to imagine or adjust to those that are the complete opposite of our own. 

  • Maja

    Absolutely true! I’ve always argued with people on this point.

  • asubjectivity

    Thank you. I needed to hear this today. That my decision not to have a relationship with an emotionally abusive family is not unhealthy or stupid but instead the best decision I could (and can) make for my mental health and general wellbeing.

  • gg

    I’m the youngest on both sides of my family and a first generation American. They are all very, very Catholic and I’ve lost touch with my faith. There’s a schism in my mom’s side and I hate the idea of having to choose sides with people I’ve never been able to relate with anyway.  Sometimes feeling like a black sheep is all it takes. Age, culture, religion… it doesn’t seem like a lot but it’s enough for me to know I’ll never see eye to eye with my parents or be the person they want me to be. I also know, though, that something I had no control over shouldn’t be the defining factor of who I am.

    tld;dr “You might have been dealt a shitty hand but don’t let that limit you, you can still become happy and successful. You are in control.”

  • Maureen

    I agree with this post 100%.  Personally, I am lucky to have a good relationship with my family, but we do not communicate with my husband’s family.  His mother & sister are mentally unstable and will not do anything to correct their situation, so he chose not to have  a relationship with them.  People constantly “remind” him how he’s lucky to have a mother at all.  Bullshit!  She has done nothing to deserve his love.

    Good for you to be able to step back and live your own life.

  • Guest

    i judge you at first glance because i believe (and psychology does as well) that everyones relationship with people throughout their life is influenced by the relationship that they had with the person/people that took care of them when they were younger

    now it is of course differnet once  i know why you left them/ not close with them. and more power to you if you left them/ are not close with them and that was the healthier choice. but still the scars caused by them will never go away (unless one has gone to therapy for years upon years upon years- and it still is usually there one way or another)

    i wont dismiss you as a possibility of dating or friend or anything else.  but it is just a sign that whatever happened in your childhood/life was really screwed (hence why therapists always ask about your childhood)

    my judgmenet is based on my experiences and what psychology/psychoanalysis has taught me

    • Neil S.

       people still take psychoanalysis seriously?

    • guest

      Of course having a screwed up childhood scars you, but that’s why friends and loved ones are even more important when you come from a bad situation. But if you can’t be open minded about the resilience of those from abuse you are missing out on some life long loyal friends. 

  • A.

    It sounds like you come from a super religious family which is the situation I’m currently in. They mostly just ignore me and let me live here, but I applaud you for leaving.

  • Allysa Marie

    I agree with every words you wrote in this piece. 
    It’s true that people change and outgrow each other. But you cannot point into a member of your family and say, “You’re fired, I don’t want you in this family anymore!” And to prove that life is unfair, it happened to me. Yes, I was dumped by my own family, particularly my mother. I loved her, as all children love their mothers. But she’s was always just cold and withholding. until that worst day happened. Thank you for this. Reading articles like this is such a relief.The lesson that I’ve learned when that happen will never change:There are just some people we outgrow. There used to be a lot of plenty flowers in the garden I’m taking care of, but as years passed only a few of them have come into full bloom. The rest turned into weeds that sucked the nutrients of my soil. I had to pull them out for they had become harmful to me. Now, the garden is quite bare but the flowers that remained are lovely, strong, and healthy.You’re right Robert, “family is not the greatest of human relationships.”

  • Justine

    This really gave me good insight. One of the best reads I’ve come across in a while. I have a good relationship with my family and extremely close to them, so I do tend to judge those people who aren’t and wonder why. Now I will think twice and come back to this entry :) And also, family doesn’t always have to your mom your dad your siblings but if you find a group of people who care about you as much as you care about them, you definitely consider them family.

    I have some issues myself.. which I’m not sure attributes to any family stuff but I realize that family is how you make it, as with everything. 

  • Anonymous


  • Robin

    I had another fallout with my dad and we’re not speaking. He became completely unreasonable as he always does and put me in an impossible position. I asked him to think of the situation from my point of view but he refuses to ever see anyone else’s position. Luckily I can still sort of have a relationship with my mom.

  • Tracey

    THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU. Seriously. Thanks.

  • guest

    I totally agree. I don’t come from a troubled family, we’ve never had any huge problems or abuse or fall-outs or anything, we just simply aren’t close! And I’m fine with it! I don’t have the impulse to call them all the time or to talk to them if something is bothering me. We’ve just never been like that. And people ALWAYS judge me and ask “Well, don’t you want a better relationship with them?” And I just want to be like “Soo calling them 20 times a day and being best friends is what constitutes a good relationship? Sounds like you need to cut the umbilical.” I love my family, but we just aren’t like that and it’s 100% fine.

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    • Michaelwg

      douse yourself in gasoline and smoke a cigarette plz.

  • Dawn

    I can relate. I suspended my relationship with my parents 7 months ago and I never really had a relationship with my siblings. One of my brothers is a sociopath that made our lives a living hell. Having my parents in my life puts him in my life by extension. I served my time as a kid. If they want to be “lifers” and continue to maintain a relationship with him, they can’t have one with me. He served 3 years in prison for trying to kill my youngest brother. He plea bargained the charges down from attempted murder to aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. He threatens my parents all the time. It’s more than simply disagreeing with their ideologies, it’s about my safety and peace of mind. I’m happy without them. I don’t even know what it would be like to have a normal family. None of my siblings or I have children because we can’t imagine putting ourselves through this again. I know our situations aren’t quite the same, but I applaud your bravery for taking such a positive step in your own life.

    • Nicasio Martinez

      Sounds like your troubled and troubling brother is afflicted with schizophenia and possibly may have been on meds for years. I understand your keeping your distance because a great number like your brother, if on meds, have a poor track record of seeing counselors or keeping to their med as prescribed. A great close friend of mine was killed by his son because he would go off his meds. Comments do not allow for much details, but I too am one who kept a great distance from my immediate family members. Of my parents, grandparents, six siblings of whom I was next to the oldest, I am the sole survivor. This is not a boast, but a sober sad reality. Peace.

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