DEAR AMY: I am a grandmother of nine grandchildren. My family jokes: “We put the ‘fun’ in dysFUNctional.” We are a gang of PTSD-ridden alcoholics and traumatized individuals with high ACE scores. Some of us are in 12-step programs, some of us are not. Looking forward to the occasion of our eldest grandson’s high school graduation is a cause of stress for me. Some of us have the tendency to say hurtful and intentionally divisive things to one another behind everyone’s backs. This is led and egged-on by my spouse’s ex, the other grandparent of this boy. I would love to begin the family gathering with a statement such as, “Hi! It’s great to see everyone . . . don’t forget that if you have a problem with someone please bring it up to them first and not to another person. Also, by the way, remarks about other people’s bodies or clothing are not appropriate unless specifically requested.” As one of the “elders” of this gathering, would it be appropriate for me to say this? I know that it is technically supposed to be all about the young graduate. However, in my experience, things do degenerate quickly into feuding. Do you have any suggestions?
Granny of Nine
DEAR GRANNY: Given the dynamic you describe, my basic reaction is that if you kick off this event by lecturing fellow guests, you will likely hasten the inevitable descent into feuding.
The good news is that these family members will likely spare one another — but will turn on you.
To clarify a detail in your question, a high “ACE” score means that you have family members who report a high level of abuse and neglect in childhood. This test was developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. By answering 10 questions, people can arrive at a score which (in a basic sense) measures their family dysfunction. A high score indicates increased risk for a variety of health and mental health issues, as well as substance abuse.
But a high ACE score does not uniformly guarantee an adulthood of dysfunction, and this is where you come in. The grandchildren in your family can possibly avoid this rough legacy if they have even one reasonable, loving, and consistently supportive person in their corner. You could be that person.
Stand up for yourself and for other family members who are being bullied. Opt out of meaningless, drink-fueled fights (leave the room). Keep your focus on the young graduate and other young and/or reasonable family members.
DEAR AMY: I am in my 60s. I just learned from Ancestry.com DNA that I’m 30 percent Jewish. I had no idea! My parents are deceased and I have no siblings. The only family member that would also have the Jewish DNA is my cousin. I wrote to her to see if she knew about this. It’s not that I’m not proud, but I’m freaking out that no one in my family told me this. Am I overreacting?
DEAR WONDERING: With increasingly complex and accurate DNA testing available commercially, many people are discovering a lot of things about their family origin that was either deliberately concealed or simply lost to time. One article I read on this pointed out that many American Hispanics are discovering Jewish DNA based on deep roots in Spain, when Jews were expelled from the Iberian Peninsula in 1492. You might not have been told about this because your parents might not have been aware of their own ethnic roots.
Certainly, if you have any European family roots, there is some likelihood that you would discover a Jewish DNA link. This DNA does not make you Jewish, but it is significant, and fascinating. Unfortunately, without living elders, it will be more challenging for you to trace back your own heritage via oral history, but I encourage you to continue to climb your family tree. This information might also be fascinating to your cousin, and it is generous of you to share it, but don’t push her if she’s not particularly interested.
DEAR AMY: Thank you for your compassionate response to “Adopted in CO,” who said her “real” parentage was sometimes challenged. I was adopted as a baby, and am the mother of an adopted child. Of course, my daughter and I are both fully members of our family. Adopted in CO should ignore or correct anyone who questions her true parentage.
DEAR PROUD: The flood of responses in support of “Adopted in CO” has been beautiful and inspiring. I’ll run responses in future columns.