How do I explain my crazy family without looking crazy?
October 15, 2010 2:36 AM Subscribe
I had a childhood that, to the casual observer, was pretty damned chaotic, and this causes some confusion when sharing family anecdotes in casual conversation.
posted by Wroksie to human relations (25 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I was raised at different times by my biological parents, my grandparents, an aunt, and a family friend (but mostly by my grandparents). I have four older half-siblings who I only met once, two younger half brothers who were adopted at birth, and a younger half brother who was raised in the foster care system after our biological mother lost custody. I also have a cousin and an aunt who are close to me in age and who lived with me with my grandparents and who are, as far as I am concerned, my brother and sister. Lucky for you, I’m not asking any questions here that will require you to say ‘see a therapist’.
Basically, I am having, and have always had, trouble explaining these relationships in a way that doesn’t make me look like an over-sharer and make other people uncomfortable (or morbidly curious). Like, in a casual conversation with casual friends, I might say ‘my mom’ when referring to my grandmother just because it’s easier and it makes sense in the conversation. I might also refer to my cousin as my brother, especially when, for example, recounting the time he tied my ankle to the radiator while I was asleep, woke me up with an airhorn, and attacked me with a super-soaker. It sounds kind of creepy to say my cousin did that to me, but if I say it’s my brother, it’s just normal sibling hi-jinks. If I say ‘my-cousin-who-is-like-a-brother’ that just seems even weirder and over-explainy.
90% of the time, this is all fine, the conversation flows, and when I get to know people better I naturally explain bits and pieces about my family as our friendship progresses, but occasionally when people I know really well are mixed with people I don’t know well, someone might say ‘I thought you said that was your cousin’ or ‘I thought you lived with your grandparents’ or whatever and then I look a little insane. Which I’m not, at all. I’m just trying to pass as a normal person as a normal, albeit confusing, family without getting everyone hung up on the (sometimes very unpleasant) details about why I grew up like I did.
Surely I can’t be the only person who has or has had this problem. How do you deal with explaining your unconventional family without looking like a crazy over-sharer? And if you were on the other side, what would be the best way a casual friend or acquaintance could discuss his or her unconventional family without making you uncomfortable with too much personal information too soon?