Thought Catalog

How To Love Your Family

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Hate them. Eat ramen with your mother in some restaurant and feel disgust when she starts slurping the broth. Her mouth hangs agape, her eyes are bulging: she looks so old and pathetic. You just want to go across the table and shake her violently. “Stop slurping! You look like a sad, droopy woman!’

Flashes of anger happen like this often. One moment you’re looking at your parents and wanting to crawl into bed with them. In that moment, all you’d like to do is disregard your age and ask for endless scalp massages and a fort made out of pillows. You need immediacy because, even when you’re hugging, you can feel them slowly getting pulled away by age, by long plane rides, by missed phone calls. You want to hold them forever and apologize for every churlish thing you did to them when you were a teenager. “I’m sorry for calling you a b-tch and making you cry tears of menopause into your ice cream sundae. I was 17 then and… I’m not like that now. I see you as a fully formed human rather than a heinous life-ruiner. Let me prove it to you that I’m better now.”

Be better. Show your love; gift it to them on a silver platter of positive affirmations and kisses. Be mature and understanding. Then, watch the anger build quickly inside of you again and regress back to being 17. Anything can trigger the regression: the slurping broth incident, a mispronunciation of words (“Dad, it’s called Robertson Drive. Not Robertson’s, Jesus Christ. How many times do I have to tell you?”), or an embarrassing outfit choice. (“Mom, you can’t go out dressed like that. You look like a depressed cupcake.”) Suddenly every choice they make offends you deeply. You fault them for aging, you fault them for having to sit down for a minute while you’re walking to lunch, you fault them for all the pills they have to take just to stay alive. Can’t you just stay as beautiful as you did in those old family movies? Can’t you just suck it up and walk a little further? Can’t you stop taking so many pills and just be alive on your own?

Realize that all of this bothers you because it reminds you that they’re getting older. Growing up, you always saw them as strong and all-knowing. Now you’re watching their brain slowly turn into a stale bowl of oatmeal and their body become wrinkly and tired. You hate it. You hate all of it. Most of all though, you hate yourself for hating them.

Watch a documentary with your mother at 1:30 in the morning in a warm, dimly lit room and feel overwhelmed by the connection you’re both feeling. Spend your days wanting to feel close to your peers, wasting money to appear attractive, waiting for a text message that will never come. And then here’s you and your mom on a couch at 1:30 in the morning and you’ve never felt so loved, so adored, and so safe. Want to replicate the love you’re feeling with a lover or a best friend and realize that would be impossible.

Go on your first family vacation in years. Maybe to the Cape, maybe to Europe, maybe to some depressing landscape in the Midwest. Approach this trip with equal amounts of dread and excitement. You know you can love your family for eight hours straight but you’re not quite sure about four days. Pray that your anger doesn’t ruin things. Pray that your love can last.

Thankfully, it does. It lasts. It lasts even when your mother mispronounces the name of the town you’re staying in, it lasts even when your brother says something borderline misogynistic, it lasts even when your sister gets too drunk and eats all of your guacamole. Stay in a big house together and be committed to cultivating your love for one another. Let it grow and don’t disrupt it. Be on the same page about wanting to care for each other. Take deep breaths when you feel the familiar rage rise up inside of you. Don’t let it out. The rage can come in but it can’t come out.

Loving your family is also about hating your family. The two are inextricably linked. You can see that now. You can’t love a group of people that much without some hate bleeding into it. Just don’t let it bleed over too much and always remember this: Nobody’s going to love you like they do.

Nobody. TC mark

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Love a soft person. The ones who are positive, even in the worst of circumstances. Someone whose strength is not in bravado, but in their quiet. Someone who is strong for others because that is what is needed in that moment. Someone who is the moon that soothes instead of the sun that burns. Someone who sees the very best in people even when you think they aren’t worth it. The kind of person who always wants to do the best for those they love.

“I bought this on a whim to read as I was resting for the night, and I do not regret it one bit! Everything about the poetry in this book is amazing, heart breaking, and soul searching. It will lift your spirits on your darkest days. I want to thank the author so much for writing this, as it’s something I will be rereading a lot! Always remember, everything about you is important. You matter.” —McKayla

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  • Anonymous

    “And then here’s you and your mom on a couch at 1:30 in the morning and you’ve never felt so loved, so adored, and so safe. Want to replicate the love you’re feeling with a lover or a best friend and realize that would be impossible.”  I love this line which hits so close to home with me.  Having spent just one day with my Mom doing this, I realized how much I adore her.  Thanks for the reminder!

  • Nixfarrugia

    One of the most beautiful pieces of writing. Honestly I doubt anyone’s ever written anything more accurate.

    Thank you.

  • guestey

    I think I read this article a year ago maybe with a few different adjectives?

  • Anonymous


  • kam

    What a great article! But my favorite part has to be : “You look like a depressed cupcake” – lmao!

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  • ohmisslouise

    This hit home. Recently, I’ve been having difficulties with my mom, it’s the whole traditional mindset versus a westernized mindset and both clash severely.I’m actually trying to get us to go to family therapy at some point because it pains me to think we’ve gotten to this point in our relationship. Thanks for this one.

  • Anthea Claire Peter

    I’m tearing up…(other than the fact that it’s probably cause i’m hormonal, damn you PMS) this is honestly SO AMAZING… I’m exactly at that stage of life where I have to see my parents age. It makes my heart sink to the bottom of the world’s saddest ocean floor but I know I have to accept it even though all I wanna do is shun it all away. And because they’re getting old they’ve also gotten a lot more sensitive and so friggin’ irritating, and I get so damn annoyed/angry that they’re like that. but above all I am more afraid of losing them more than anything else… like you say, nobody’s going to love you like they do. I can’t even bear the thought of not having them in my life.

    Thank you so much for writing this.

  • Gregor Derupe

    Ryan O’Connell, I don’t know how you do it, but your words are beyond amazing. This post pretty much hit the spot when it comes to the guilt that comes along with all the petty fights and struggles we had to put our parents through in our teen years. Now, we can barely describe how we would function if our parents are lost. It’s as if the ropes of safety net you’ve just recently realized was there is slowly but surely splitting away. Like you said, we can never truly know whether parental love can be matched with that of a lover or a best friend. But ugghhh, your posts are just mind-blowing.

  • monica

    Two words: I cried.

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  • Mitzy (@mitzyredmango)

    This is a nice article. :) I love the last part.

  • JD

    This is so very true. Which is why I love staying at home whenever I am in my town. No one can replace the love of a good family.

  • Rizowana

    It’s kind of amazing how I’ve been mulling over the exact same things recently…and then I come across this post. Ryan, I’ve always loved your articles, but this one spoke to my soul. It’s like you ripped apart my mind, peered into my heart and lazily put it all down into words for the world to see. Because this is exactly how I feel. I’d recently felt that love is all about having the freedom to hate, because if you don’t share the comfort level of hating the person of your affections freely, how can you truly love that person? In that sense, you’re only depriving yourself of an important emotion if you don’t allow yourself to rage at the person who makes you feel so much. I could say a lot more, but for now, I can just say: thank you.

  • brittanyraeann

    This is phenomenal. And perfect.

  • brittanyraeann

    Reblogged this on Sooner and the City and commented:
    This is perfect.

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  • jesstine

    I really love my family thanks to your post it help me more.

  • Emily

    this is perfect. you captured and put into words that weird, highly complicated tangle of emotions that colours my relationship with my parents…Another amazing piece, Ryan :)

  • Kayla

    This makes me cry every single time.

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