Family is everything. If you have it, it’s the source of your identity and security. If you don’t have it, it’s the source of your longings. If you love it, you become it; if you hate it, you seek to become what it’s not.
If you’re lucky, you can make your own family, one made up of those you love and who love you. This could come in the traditional form of marriage and children, or be a family of friends, lovers, mentors, partners.
Yet, however fulfilling these ‘second’ families might be, you will never fully escape the sense of loss for your family of origin and of what might have been – an ache that will return now and then as you move through life.
The need to belong is wired into us. There’s no escape. You can wish you weren’t part of your family; you might even reject them, but you’re never free of them. Inner doubts, resentments and justifications gurgle on. We’re born to connect, and the imprint of that first connection is indelible.
The Myth of the Ideal Family, the Reality of Love
Of families born or made, none are perfect. They all have flaws. Like you and me.
Family includes the people who love you in the strangest ways; who constantly interfere, come across as patronizing or judgemental, or perhaps even distant at times.
Yet, these are the people who are there for you without hesitation when the sky falls – the ones you can rely on unconditionally. So why is it they can also be the most difficult and annoying? That’s family.
The great philosophers have grappled with the meaning of life and can’t agree on anything. For the poets and seers however, it’s a no-brainer: We live for love. You might say we reach for love. Much like a plant instinctively reaches for the sun.
Feeling unloved or misunderstood by family, some people lament while others encase themselves in suits of emotional armour. And then there are those who settle, allowing their independence to be trampled, their uniqueness to be ignored. You can grapple with anger and sadness; even hatred can move you on. But settling for what you’ve got – that’s the worst. It’s an act of surrender that shuts down hope and puts change beyond reach.
That’s when you find out which side of your family you stand on. Your relatives may be judgemental, supportive or indifferent.
If only family could just love us. And if we could only just love our family. How complicated is that?
For some, spirituality is an escape from worldly difficulties, but it can also be a way to align ourselves with reality. Self-awareness, mindfulness and thoughtful reflection are the key. Life is busy and we need to get things done but also, as Blaise Pascal said, ‘… miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone.’
You can spend your life lamenting that things aren’t the way you want, or you learn to accept and value the family you have. And appreciate the positive, loving aspects.
So as you ponder the reality of family and grapple with mixed emotions, know you are not alone. Hopefully, that thought brings a form of familial peace.
What does this post on family (longing, belonging) bring up for you?
6 thoughts on “Family of Longing, Family of Belonging”
Mmm, that if the sky is falling the last people you’d mention it to are your family and keeping your distance is a protective mechanism. Come to a much more peaceful place with mum and regret not doing that with dad (died in 1996). Distance is, alas, they key. The brother I felt closest to took off and failed to let anyone know where he was. Tracked him down with the help of The Salvation Army and it seems that he had taken up heavy drinking while away. So, mmm.
Hi Darlene: Keeping your distance is a protective reflex, and it’s certainly given me some freedom, but I’ve never quite stopped wondering, “what if we could get past it?” That kept me going back year after year. Eventually I stopped, but the ‘what if’ apprehension still revisits me.
I don’t agree with the basic premise here, the one proposed in your opening paragraph. Certainly, if healthy, we have a basic social impulse and seek at a deeper level to test and perhaps expand the boundaries of our personality through relationships we cultivate in life from age 15 or so on. And if we are working upon opening and knowing ourselves, we will naturally come to see more and more how we self-define and grow via the path of acquaintences we make in life, some cutivated, and others strangely brought about through ‘chance’.
But speaking of the family of our childhood, I think it is normal and healthy to become freer and less inwardly determined or bounded by the interactions and social positioning which colored our early family life. To the extent we individualize, and become who we are, we are less and less colored by these entanglements. It does not necessarily mean that close or distant family relations during our adult life depend upon how free we have become. We might choose the outer ties well into maturity or not. The point is whether we make the choice in freedom or acquiesce to conventions as they take form in the older family unit.
I have seen all types of closeness, distance, false closeness, and false distance in various adult family clusters I have met in life. Very often it seems that strong, ‘expected’ family ties in adult life are occasioned by higher levels of emotional disfunction than usual, and handcuffed psyches.
Since I disputed what I’ve understood of your view, it is only fair I say a little bit about my own ideas in this area.
For me, relationships by age 30 or so are most healthy when they draw life from shared convictions, or you could go further and say a common spiritual outlook. There are degrees, of course. Mutual casual respect for individuality, keen interest in the thinking of someone, shared experiences, and so on. If this kind of thing develops a little between adults who once shared a family unit relationship, then that it is an unusual blessing.
Early in our life, our relationships are less about our freedom and choice, more about the constraints we need to form within. Later in life, relationships should be more about free initiative. We then blossom and can build the seeds for future destiny. Our ‘familial’ sense expands outward.
Hi Rob: Not sure I understand your dispute. We certainly grow and self-define in later relationships, but whenever I returned to family for reunions, I was always amazed at how my new-found maturity was nowhere in evidence, and the sibling pecking order clicked into place like a well-oiled machine.
The premise of family ties and unconditional support is a lovely one and not always accurate. My family of origin would be the last (if ever) I would turn to if the sky were falling. I once did an exercise given to me by my life coach – ask 100 people how you have touched their lives. My family refused to participate. I’ve done a lot for my family (at their request) over the years and yet none of it was “good enough”. My mother died in 2008 – we had been estranged for 7 years. My sisters chose to remove me from their lives in 2003. I’ve come to peace with that knowing I have done all I can to reconcile with them and they have chosen not to. I have never felt such freedom – as if the noose was removed from around my neck and the shackles were broken. While I love them dearly, some people just need to be loved from a distance – a great distance…
Would you be tempted reach out if you learned that one of your sisters was dying? I ask because I’ve heard several stories of family silences breaking down in the face of death. It’s unfortunate you were estranged from your mother when she died, but you still speak of loving ‘from a distance,’ though perhaps you’re just being polite…?
Please understand, I don’t think you ‘should’ do this; I just wonder if you might. Things change.