A few choice words and the loud smack of the front door slamming behind you is all that separates you from years of family and no family at all.
Moving to Utah was the best and worst thing that ever happened to me. I was 200 miles away from my immediate family, but I was learning so much and meeting so many new people. I was starting to learn what love looked like, and I was able to compare it to how I was raised. My disownment didn’t come as a surprise to me, but it still stung nonetheless.
A large part of Utah culture is this idea that “family is forever;” it stems from the teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and it’s a nice sentiment, but it’s not for everyone. My whole life I believed that blood is thicker than water, but over the course of a couple of months I have found my own, new definition of family.
As I have grown, I have realized the most important family is the family you choose to have in your life. This can include your biological family, adoptive family, friends, roommates, teammates, etc. We hear so much about the nuclear family — the one mom, one dad and 1.9 kids family — but we never hear about other, nontraditional families.
See, two months ago, blood was thicker than water, but now I see that love is stronger than anything. Love isn’t “I love you because you do as I say” or “I’m proud of you because you make me look good;” love is unconditional, unwavering and it can be a friendship started in a classroom or a marriage that began to bud in a Panda Express. Love doesn’t have an expiration date or a set of standards. Love is there for you when you need it.
The love I saw from the family that left me on their doorstep at 20 years old was not love. Their love came with strings attached, a set of standards, and a remarkable list of “if’s” and “but’s.” It took me too long to realize this, and I know I’m not alone.
Simply typing the words “disowned in college” into the Google search bar brings up forums and discussions with ages and circumstances as to why that specific person was disowned. Usually the person in question doesn’t know what to do, where to go, or how to process what is happening.
We teach young men and women to forgive and forget, but I argue that we should teach college students the true definition of love first. Students are entering college afraid to be themselves because they’ve been told their parents won’t help them succeed if they don’t act, dress or speak a certain way. Students are choosing majors to make their parents happy, and watching from a distance as they fail every math course because they would rather be painting or writing. That’s not love; that’s manipulation.
There needs to be more resources available to students who can’t use FAFSA because their parents aren’t paying for their college or they don’t have any contact with them. There needs to be support groups for students who feel less than human because the people that were supposed to love them unconditionally only showed them hostility and a world of “only if’s.” We need to place less emphasis on titles, like “mother” and “father,” and more emphasis on genuine relationships.
Abusive family doesn’t have to be forever. I am not the first woman to thrive despite the circumstances I was handed by the group of people I was born into, and I won’t be the last. Let’s make it easier for students to thrive despite their families and hardships because hiding who you are shouldn’t be a college financial requirement.