I recently got to feel what true family is. I was struggling to understand how I could bring all of me to my work, how I could remain steady and express what I truly felt, as well as bring my lightness and playfulness consistently.
During a class that I attend regularly, the facilitator suggested that I speak to an elder who also participates in the class. He is part of my community and she suggested that I contact him to explain my concerns to him and give him the opportunity to share his wisdom with me. His daughter, who was also in the class, revealed that he already had six ‘daughters’, two of whom were blood related while the other four received his support as if they were his daughters.
He agreed with such willingness, offering love and support. The fact that he was willing to listen to and support me as if I was his own daughter made me cry. I felt how I had missed this depth of understanding in my life, as my own father had passed away many years ago and I don’t speak to my mother very often. In that moment I felt how deeply beautiful it is that as a community we can be there for each other, whether we are blood related or not.
The morning of the call came and I had the opportunity to talk about why I can’t bring all of me at work. I explained how I felt protective of the children I work with; that I want everything to run smoothly and that I want them to be OK; that I went into work early and stayed late to tidy up, even though I was not paid for this extra time.
He exposed how I was putting the children and the adults first while taking very little care of me. If a child was upset I would take it as my responsibility to make them feel better. All of this was exhausting me. I was not getting a chance to do what I truly enjoyed and felt to do – being with the children. By staying at work late, I missed the opportunity to pick my son up from school, and at the same time see my friends at the school pick-up to connect and catch up.
While being held in a safe space to come to these realisations, I could feel how sad this made me. More tears were shed. I realised I was basically putting everybody else first and exhausting myself in the process. I also felt how I was withholding my lightness and playfulness by not allowing myself to do those things that bring me joy, such as being with the children and collecting my son from school. On a deeper level, the sadness was from feeling how, in many families, there are often agendas and pictures of how a family should be. There is often judgement and criticism rather than just being there for each other without anything else going on in the background. The sadness was from feeling how far away from true love and support life is lived in many blood families, how I had lived. I felt jealousy from my sibling and so there was not the enrichment of each other. It felt more like a tearing down, the tall poppy syndrome, where no one wants you to shine and be the amazing person that you are. In true family we enrich and support each other to be all we can be – a huge difference.
After the phone call I felt a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders, as the burden that I had been carrying by trying to make everyone and everything OK and taking up responsibilities which weren’t truly mine, dropped away. I also realised that by reacting every time a child was upset, by wanting them to feel better again, I was not holding myself, staying steady.
The elder didn’t try to fix things for me, he simply offered me the space to talk and to come to my own realisations: he truly listened and responded with questions he felt to ask. There was no judgment, just a holding of me in love and support. He didn’t hold back with what he felt to share with me, which allowed me to feel how little I was caring for myself. This felt like a conversation with a true father, without the judgement, attachment and pictures that a father could have of how he would like his children to be.
This true father simply held the space for me to express what was going on for me, and with no imposition, was clearly able to interpret what he read from my sharing, offering clarity around this, presenting what may support me, without any investment or ideal, just a simple, loving holding and expression from his connection.
Having this space, in which I felt held and not judged, allowed me to come to the realisation that as a deeply sensitive and tender child I was not met in these qualities. I was not honoured and treasured. Seeing and feeling the hardness and emotional turmoil and jealousy around me, I had decided to neither live nor express my sensitivity and tenderness and that these would remain hidden from others. With this realisation I then went into a drive to save the world and save people, to not allow what had happened to me to happen to them. At work, I didn’t want the children’s sensitivity to be shut down, but I was not allowing them to learn and grow from their own experiences. In that I was disempowering them.
As a result of our conversation, I gave myself permission to put myself first, to care for myself and to express what I was feeling. This felt very precious.
I sensed my experience represented our true way of all being together in our communities. Being there for each other is to truly love and support each other, not being invested in how we want someone to be, not having agendas or pictures, but to offer space and speak up without judgement and criticism when the situation calls for it, allowing each other to be as magnificent as possible.
I am witnessing how my son can have true brother-sister relationships in our community, and now I know that I can have a father-daughter relationship with someone that is not blood related but very much feels like (my) family now.
I realised how we hold those who are our own immediate family as dearer and more important than others when this is not the reality, and how this separates people, not allowing the love and support that can be there for us all. We cannot do it all on our own but when we all connect on a much deeper level and work together, life feels so much richer and more joyful.
By Rebecca W, BA, UK