So, what does fam­ily re­ally mean?

Lift Magazine - - Contents - Writ­ten by Emily M. Mor­gan Sin­gle Mum / Writer/ Founder of The Par­ent Re­source Cen­tre and Par­ents in the Know Pod­cast

Do any of these sto­ries fit your con­cept of fam­ily?

• A woman I know re­ceived a call from her brother re­cently. Not such a big event, per­haps, ex­cept that nei­ther she nor any other mem­ber of the fam­ily had heard from him in over 15 years – and they didn’t think this was par­tic­u­larly re­mark­able.

• A man I once met told me that his wife works south of the city, he works north of the city and their son boards at high school in the city. They are lucky to meet up to­gether once a year.

• A close friend of mine found out that her mother was ac­tu­ally her grand­mother, and I’ve heard sto­ries of sim­i­lar dis­cov­er­ies over the years, a re­flec­tion of the lack of open com­mu­ni­ca­tion within cer­tain cul­tures and fam­ily cir­cles.

I have spo­ken to women who’ve changed their iden­ti­ties to keep them­selves and their chil­dren safe from the fam­ily they grew up with or the fam­ily they built, once full of hope and prom­ise for the fu­ture.

For most sin­gle par­ents, the fam­ily story starts with the prom­ise of sup­port from a sec­ond adult to build a new fam­ily unit to­gether. That’s what you pay for, if you like. When that adult sup­port is lost it throws you into an un­cer­tain fu­ture and thrusts upon you the huge re­spon­si­bil­ity of rais­ing kids solo – that’s not what you had in mind at all –that wasn’t your con­cept of fam­ily.

Fam­i­lies in to­day’s world must fight to re­main rel­e­vant, in the face of dis­tance: the in­evitable side ef­fect of seek­ing ful­fill­ing work or other op­por­tu­ni­ties, dam­age: emo­tional, psy­cho­log­i­cal and phys­i­cal, which has al­ways been with us but is slowly be­ing drawn into the light, and in­dif­fer­ence: the ap­a­thy that af­fects many fam­i­lies, born of over­work, poor com­mu­ni­ca­tion and the ‘up­grade’ cul­ture we live in. In­di­vid­u­als in a fam­ily don’t feel as if they have any­thing in com­mon with each other, and drift away in the wind.

Is this what the idea of fam­ily has be­come? Frac­tured units of hu­man be­ings, dis­tanced from each other, dam­ag­ing to each other and in­dif­fer­ent to each oth­ers’ sto­ries and well­be­ing?

I refuse to be­lieve it.

If the fam­ily we are born into or cre­ate for our­selves lets us down, we must look de­ter­minedly else­where for the sup­port and sense of be­long­ing that ev­ery hu­man be­ing needs. But where to start? Here are two sug­ges­tions.

CHEAT DIS­TANCE: EM­BRACE YOUR LOV­ING FAM­ILY

Do you live far from your lov­ing and sup­port­ive ex­tended fam­ily? Take time to think care­fully about your life choices. Are you far away be­cause you feel you need a cer­tain job or life­style, or did cir­cum­stances lead you away? Could you pos­si­bly find hap­pi­ness closer to your child­hood sup­port net­work? Mov­ing is a big event, and very dis­rup­tive. But a brief dis­rup­tion now may mean years of strong re­la­tion­ships and happy, con­fi­dent in­de­pen­dence later on.

I am a sin­gle mother by choice. When we have kids, most of us ex­pect to have the sup­port of at least one other adult to help us raise them and build a fam­ily group. I did not have that lux­ury, but what I did have was a large and over­whelm­ingly sup­port­ive ex­tended fam­ily. In my fool­ish­ness and stub­born pride, I lived far from most of them when I first be­came a mother, pur­su­ing ca­reer and riches and find­ing noth­ing but stress and de­pres­sion. When I hit rock bot­tom, my fam­ily stepped in to move me back to my mother’s house and I slowly found my­self again in a sim­pler life where I was once more in charge of my own des­tiny. I learned the hard way that solid fam­ily sup­port is not a crutch, but a vi­tal com­po­nent of a happy, self-con­fi­dent in­di­vid­ual.

In a sense, my chil­dren be­long to all of us, thanks to the love and as­sis­tance my lit­tle fam­ily unit has re­ceived from the larger fam­ily cir­cle. In­stead of a fa­ther, they have mul­ti­ple fa­ther fig­ures in my dad and broth­ers; in­stead of pa­ter­nal grand­par­ents, they have lov­ing aunts and un­cles from sev­eral gen­er­a­tions on their mother’s side. My kids don’t know yet how lucky they are.

Of course, many sep­a­rated or di­vorced par­ents are forced to live away from their fa­mil­ial sup­port net­work than they would like, due to the re­quire­ments of shared care. This is an ex­tremely dif­fi­cult po­si­tion but if this is you, re­mem­ber: you never know what may hap­pen in the fu­ture; or what op­por­tu­ni­ties may come your way. Peo­ple are con­stantly on the move, and this may work in your favour even­tu­ally.

IF THE FAM­ILY WE WERE BORN INTO OR HAVE CRE­ATED LETS US DOWN, WE MUST LOOK ELSE­WHERE FOR THE SENSE OF BE­LONG­ING THAT EV­ERY HU­MAN BE­ING NEEDS

FAM­I­LIES ARE MADE OF LOVE, NOT DNA

If your fam­ily is far-off, non-ex­is­tent or non-sup­port­ive, cre­ate your own. Fam­ily is not a mat­ter of blood, but of ac­tion – your friends can be­come your fam­ily. A sin­gle par­ent must have adult help, sup­port, en­cour­age­ment and love. With­out rel­a­tives to call upon, your friends and friends-to-be must fill the gap.

Mak­ing friends is scary and takes ef­fort. You must be pa­tient, ac­cept that not ev­ery po­ten­tial friend will make the dis­tance, put your­self out there, and be a friend, even when it’s dif­fi­cult or in­con­ve­nient. For ev­ery ten po­ten­tial friends you meet, per­haps one will ac­tu­ally be­come a true friend. But a sin­gle true friend is worth more than all the oth­ers put to­gether, so per­se­vere.

Go to places where like-minded peo­ple go: you have a child, so you al­ready have some­thing in com­mon with a lot of peo­ple. Play groups, parks, dance, mu­sic, sport lessons, are all great places to meet peo­ple, have low-ef­fort con­ver­sa­tions and take the first steps to friend­ship. Push your­self past your em­bar­rass­ment and in­vite peo­ple over for play dates and cof­fee. Lis­ten to them, sup­port them, be a friend to them as well as you can. Be open about who you are; you must be hon­est in or­der to at­tract hon­est, true blue friends.

Drop the peo­ple who come into your life and add noth­ing to it. Drop the ones who will take your time but give none of their own; drop the ones who don’t un­der­stand or make ef­forts to help with your sit­u­a­tion. Drop the ones who make you feel judged or less than wor­thy; these are not friends, just bad habits you need to lose. Fam­i­lies are made of love, re­mem­ber.

So look for the love.

In­stead of dis­tanced, dam­ag­ing and in­dif­fer­ent fam­i­lies, let’s fill the world with sup­port­ive, un­der­stand­ing, lov­ing ones – start­ing right here with your own.

Con­sider these con­cepts of fam­ily:

• A hugely busy ca­reer woman drove to her friend’s house and ac­com­pa­nied her to the hos­pi­tal with her sick daugh­ter in the mid­dle of the night, be­fore a mas­sive day at work, and would not hear of leav­ing her side un­til the lit­tle girl was given the all clear – head­ing home to change be­fore go­ing straight into work with no sleep.

• A woman whose 6 month old was di­ag­nosed with cancer was over­whelmed with love and prac­ti­cal sup­port from fam­ily, friends and strangers who paid her bills, closed up her house, cre­ated a sup­port group on Face­book and ral­lied around her suf­fer­ing fam­ily, tak­ing away ev­ery small bur­den of daily life so that she could con­cen­trate on her daugh­ter.

• The hus­band of a new mum from a mother’s group heard about a newly sin­gle mother strug­gling to get by, and ar­ranged to out­source ad­min work to her, to keep money com­ing in while she got her life back to­gether.

I per­son­ally wit­nessed ev­ery one of these sto­ries of true fam­ily. Let’s make these our ideal, and recre­ate the con­cept of fam­ily anew.

Ev­ery­one de­serves a good fam­ily. Ev­ery­one, in­clud­ing you.

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