Maybe it’s the holidays right around the corner, or maybe it’s all the This is Us I’ve been watching (anyone else totally hooked on that show?), but I’ve been reflecting a lot on family. There are some things that have been on my heart to share with you, which is another reason I created this space – to write openly and freely as things come to me, in hopes of encouraging and connecting.
Before we go any further, I just want to clear a few things right up. I love my family, I love my mom, and I love knowing that family and home is something I will always have no matter where life takes me. In fact, this post took me quite a few revisions to write. I wanted to make sure that I chose gentle but honest words, because I have family that I love dearly and I did not want them to have misconceptions about my message here. My hope is that you find some encouragement through my experience and the words that have been on my heart.
First, let me explain a little bit about my family history, and hopefully in terms that don’t give you all the weepy details, because sympathy is not my purpose nor my party here.
My mom is my rock and cornerstone. Plain and simple. She is my family. I also know with my whole heart that many family members on her side love me and support me. I would not discount that and I want to make that clear. But to say we’ve always had a conventional family setting just wouldn’t be true. As I mentioned in my post about comparison, people grow and change, and family love can be tough.
I felt this most deeply as my dad started to fade out of my life and eventually ended all communication with me. Again, I’m not going to get into the sappy specifics of this, I’m just trying to get to my point. Growing up, I was never super close with his side of the family, but I did at least visit them or hear from them during the holidays. Now, not so much. I’ve pretty much lost all contact with that side of the family, except for the birthday and Christmas cards my grandma still sends me, which is admittedly kind.
Okay, so that pretty much leaves the extent of my family to my mom’s side, but I’ve felt the effects of unconventional family settings there as well. There are family members that we’ve been consistently close with, and others that have drifted off and distanced themselves from most of our family. The reasons and circumstances are more than I can even fully comprehend, considering my years of life do not compare with the extensive years of family relationships and dynamics. At the end of the day, the present dynamics are not any one person’s fault.
The important part of this story is all of the family that’s filled in the gaps for me along the way.
I have several close friends who are like sisters to me (because oh yeah, I’m an only child if you haven’t figured that out!), and their dads have cared for me like I was their second daughter. Their siblings have become the ones I never had, and many of their aunts, cousins, and grandmas have even loved the heck out of me. Of course, their moms have always been amazing and caring to me too, although they’re bonus mommas because that’s one gap I have never needed filled. The truth is, I’ve found so much family love in my friendships over the years, and in the last four years I’ve gained even more family through my relationship with my boyfriend. His family is amazing and has welcomed me into all the birthday parties, holiday gatherings, family photos… it has truly been a blessing and I consider them my family.
I just want you to remember that there’s life and family beyond your immediate relatives who may lack emotions or gestures of love and support. I know it’s painful and I know every circumstance is different. One thing I’ve learned to do (not sure when or how) is compartmentalize various aspects of my life. I guess you could also call this emotionally shutting yourself off? However, I prefer compartmentalization, because that means I’m able to recognize different situations and feel their effects on me and/or others, but I don’t let them define me or tear me completely to shreds. At least that’s the goal. I actually hadn’t done research on this term until after I wrote this, but in doing so I found this interesting article that describes the strategy and associated feelings pretty accurately. (Hmm, now I’m intrigued to learn more…)
Here, I’ll give you an example. If someone in my family does something offensive or annoying or hurtful or crazy, I can often recognize the bogus in the situation without letting it control my emotions. I can choose to say, “ugh, oh well,” (the condensed version) and move on, because I know there’s a community of other people that I can rely on for support and love. It doesn’t matter if they’re not my immediate or blood-related family; they are family nonetheless. Something my old coworker and friend used to say is “not my circus, not my monkeys.” Isn’t that a funny visual? If you want to remove yourself from the circus ring, you have that right.
I also want to mention that it is okay to be emotional. Honestly, I’m not exactly an unemotional person, and I fully believe in the power of a good cry. Trust me, I don’t have this compartmentalization thing down to a fine science. It’s okay to take time to be gentle with yourself and recognize hurtful situations in your life. I just don’t want you to get so wrapped up in family baggage, that you forget your own worth or the worth of those other family members that can be found all around life’s corners. Focus on the relationships that build you up, and invest in the people and conversations that positively impact your life.
We all need a community of people surrounding us; where do you most find that sense of belonging and support? Where do you find family?