Every holiday season, I had mastered that art of not answering the question.
“Are your parents coming out for Christmas?” someone would ask.
“Not this year,” I’d reply.
“Do you have brothers or sisters coming to town?” they’d wonder.
“It’s just me,” I would say.
I hadn’t lied, but I hadn’t told the truth either. The truth is I’ve let go of the family I grew up in, and found true happiness. That can be a tempting but tough sell at the holidays, when television and media bombard us with images of generations of blissful families gathering around a table or tree. The idea of really putting my past behind me seems to fly in the face of the spirit of the holidays. But in reality that’s exactly what the season calls for.
I was raised in Hollywood, plopped into a sudsy bathtub for my first Johnson & Johnson Baby Shampoo commercial before I’d reached my first birthday. When I was eight I landed a role on one of the biggest television hits of the time, "Little House on the Prairie," playing Michael Landon’s daughter opposite my fictional older brother, Jason Bateman.
Throughout my childhood, I led a magical existence on dozens of sets, logging more than a hundred commercials, and countless shows and movies, but behind the scenes, the story was less idyllic. My success was fueled by a dangerously competitive stage mother whose drive knew no limits. While I flourished under in the spotlight of her attention and ambition, my older sister, Tiffany, shrunk into the shadows. She could never please our mother, and her sense of worthlessness and defeat eventually destroyed her.
Our family came to an explosive end. But until I finally put my story down on paper in "Diary of a Stage Mother’s Daughter," writing the history down for myself, I had no idea how to explain what happened to other people. I didn’t know where to start, especially with my two young sons. To be honest, the story is embarrassing, filled with details that make me question if my mother ever loved us. I found the conversation easier when I stuck to vague answers.
But when my older son turned four, he asked me if my husband’s mom was my mom, too. Once again, I pulled out a non-lie that didn’t answer his real question. “No,” I said. But I’m sure my tone told him not to pursue the answer. That day I knew I needed to come to terms with the truth. I needed to own my story because we both deserved to be okay with the truth.
When "Diary" hit stores though, I was in for a real shock. All the time I spent hide and covering my truth was for nothing. Person after person said, “I read your story and I feel so close to you now. The same thing happened to me!” When they tell me their story though, the substance and details are entirely different, but what’s the same is that they’ve endured a trauma, a trial, a life-stopping event.
Turns out, we could all write a book. Almost all of us have heartbreak in our pasts. But rather than carrying that pain and letting it paralyze us, I suggest that history is a richness of experience to draw upon. I know what damages a family and the hope and healing that can come from a fresh start. And for me, that meant ending my relationship with an abusive mother. I vowed the madness, grief, and pain of our family would end with me, and it did. I wanted a different future, and chose to take a brighter path.
Even at the holidays, when a department store or jewelry maker runs a commercials showing an impossibly large family traveling over snowy roads to be together and exchange gifts, I know in my heart I made the right decision.
So if you feel weighed down by your past, turn the page and write a new future. You can choose to be happy. You can choose a joyful future. It’s never too late.