Some things have arisen recently for me that stirred up some long settled muck at the bottom of my pristine soul pond. This post is about the aggression I encounter in the areas where I've made a choice that puts me in the minority. I am thankful this holiday season that in my immediate family, we have love and respect for each other across the board, few questions asked. When I met my husband, I was a vegetarian, he was a meat eater. We also had other life choices that were different from each other's besides what was on our plates, but we fell in love anyway. (We are both vegan now! - another story for another day.)
Now, we live with my parents, helping my dad care for my mom who has Alzheimer's. My dad eats a low carb (high meat) diet, and I feed my mom whatever she will open her mouth for - which often includes dairy or meat. The differences don't stop there. My dad is a bulk-buying consumerist, who has Fox News on his TV most nights, while I am a minimalist, bleeding heart liberal, bordering on socialist and admirer of pure communism (🎵cue John Lennon's Imagine...🎵) We have found a way to coexist, live in the same household, love and still admire each other despite - or even because of - our differences. Even with my anarchist husband thrown in the mix. (Ok maybe not an anarchist but his views and comments on life and politics make me laugh on a daily basis, and I'm still madly in love with him.)
Where am I going with this? I keep reading horrifying stories lately of vegans being raked through the coals at the holidays by their families. This is a really interesting article (written by an omnivore) that I just read this morning with my coffee. I used to have family members approach me in our family Christmas buffet line aggressively asking me if I was still not eating turkey and how was I supposed to get enough protein!?!?! I don't go to those family gatherings anymore... I never looked at their plate and said "How DARE you put butter on that roll!!" or "Looking at those heaps of meat is going to make me vomit all over this room!" - - - why would I ever say anything like that to someone I love?!
I have some struggles in life. Getting flogged with an Alzheimer's diagnosis is no treat, and caregiving for a parent 24/7 for 4 years is no cakewalk. I've always lived a low income lifestyle, though honestly I've never struggled to put food on the table, so I can't relate to families who really struggle in that sense. I am also not a minority because of my race, ethnicity, or socio-economic status. I respect and sympathize with those who have those struggles and would never presume to truly understand.
What I have done, though, is chosen a lifestyle and belief system that makes me a minority in a different sense. Because of this, I feel I am more empathetic, and I absolutely believe in the concept of equity over equality - or even liberation as this cartoon indicates.
I have very different views on the best diet for humans (plant-based), faith vs. religion (pro the first, anti the second), and the educational system (I bite my tongue a lot in public because I plan to homeschool, and I know I will get judged or attacked because of this...)
I have learned to bite my tongue a lot. It's a shame, really, because I am an intelligent woman with lots of valid points to make. But I do not enjoy heated debates, and I do not like it when people yell at me, especially in my face. So I avoid these types of confrontations if I can. My choices in many cases make me a minority, and I find that I am attacked if I voice my stance. Which is so interesting to me, because I rarely approach anyone else in this manner myself.
The choices I have made for my life are my own. They are not a reaction to or a judgment on your choices.
1. Caregiving at home. We promised my mom that we would keep her at home and not put her in a nursing care facility. It was incredibly difficult for many years and continues to be a real struggle for our family. We don't have freedoms that other people have because someone always has to be at the home, caring for her. My dad just left to go out to lunch with friends, which means I just changed my mom's diaper, I will feed her lunch, and I can't take my son to go see Santa this afternoon like I wish I could. I'll have to find another time when someone else can spell me.
We made the choice. We chose the sacrifices. We accepted the struggles. We figured out the balance. We also wanted to save the money because we didn't know how long she'd live (we still don't!), and we don't want to spend my dad's entire retirement on nursing home fees. There are days when I wish we could have made a different choice. My husband and I have agreed that we will tell our son he can absolutely put us in a nursing home someday if it will make his life easier. Yet, when I tell another family with a similar diagnosis that we chose to keep my mom at home, and I'm an in-home caregiver, I get 2 reactions - 1 is "wow that must be so difficult" and close behind is 2, an immediate tension and defensiveness as though I think I'm better than they are, because they have their loved one in a memory care facility.
One lesson my grandma passed down to me that her mother told her is "No one is any better than you, and you are no better than anyone else."
Let's keep all those egos in check!
Let me be clear. I respect whatever anyone needs to do to get through a devastating Alzheimer's diagnosis and care plan. There are a whole different set of challenges and emotional pains that come with putting your loved one in a facility. It is not easy, and I watch many families struggle emotionally and financially. Yes, we give excellent care to my mom; so do our hospice CNAs when they come to help us. I believe that for some families Memory Care is absolutely the best choice for everyone's safety and sanity. We made a different choice for our family. But I respect other choices wholeheartedly. I wish that same respect be paid back to me and my family.
2. Homeschooling. It's assumed that your kid is going into kindergarten at 6. People ask me all the time if mine is in daycare or when he's going to preschool. Are we going to move to be in the best school district for him? I have plenty of time to decide, but I really feel strongly that I want to homeschool him. He's so smart. We work so hard on his "learning time" now. My husband and I are really versatile and intelligent people in language, mathematics, science, and the arts. I think we could give him a lot of opportunity to thrive in a homeschool environment.
But even when I share this desire with people I love and trust, I get immediate on-edge "concern" thrown back at me. "He will be socially stunted!" (My outgoing, people-loving social butterfly? I don't think so.) "Kids need team sports!" (Well, there are clubs...but also we believe team sports create more problems than they solve, but that's another blog post...) "He won't be able to relate or compete with peers and he'll be a fish out of water in college." (I don't think education should be "competitive" and we aren't going to demand he go to college. Again, another blog post... But even if he does want to go to college, statistics now show homeschooled kids are in demand at high level academic institutions because their education is so diverse and unique!)
3. Veganism. An 8 letter dirty word. Phew! This has been the big choice in my life that I never realized was going to make so many people so ANGRY!!! It's shocking. I had a friend who was a vegan who almost got beat up in a bar because someone found out he was a vegan. He didn't even say anything. They just found out he was a vegan, and he had to leave the bar for his safety. I know another vegan who got screamed at in a public deli by the man behind her in line because she opted out of the added "protein" on her sandwich and only wanted vegetables. I was camping once with friends of family, and they tried to force me to eat their venison from a family hunting trip. I literally was just quietly sitting there, reading a book, not engaging in the conversation. A simple "no thank you" was not accepted, and they were RELENTLESS in the "meat debate" with me. WHY?!?!
Why is this relatively quiet, personal life choice so offensive to others? I did not become vegan as a judgment against anyone else. I don't get on a pedestal at public meals and preach about it. First and foremost it was a choice I made for my own body. My body! I also happen to believe that it's the best choice for the health of the planet and the well being of earth's creatures. But I don't even actively protest and picket about it (though, maybe I should!)
I have discovered that when you make the choice to do something fewer people do and actively choose to be in the minority, people get angry and defensive like you’re judging their choice. Beware the angry majority!! I reiterate: The choices I have made for my life are my own. They are not a reaction to or a judgment on your choices. I actively try to respect and love others who are different from me. I really do. I believe it takes all kinds to make this world turn. You will never find someone in this world that makes all the exact same choices as you. How beautiful to know that we are all so unique! And I try to remember what a therapist told me once. Someone else's extreme reaction to something you said or did says EVERYTHING about them, and nothing about you.