Dissecting the Chords that Bind Us
There is a saying, ‘you can’t choose your family’ – but the truth is, would we want to?
As an angst-filled teen I often prayed (as most angry teenagers do) that I could just walk away from my family. Because those I chose to surround myself with enriched my life so much more than the people I was living with – who were absolutely nothing like me.
It’s funny how as you age wisdom is imparted to you. I can’t profess to believe that I know everything. In fact, the past few years have taught me more than I ever realised I needed to learn.
As a teenager I would look at my parents and wonder what it was that made me like them. I looked like my mum, I still do. I’m the carbon copy of her when she was my age, in fact if you stood two pictures of us side by side, it would be hard to tell us apart.
And yet I often feel like I am nothing like her at all. I have many of the same personality traits as my father, and I recognise these even more the older I get, but as a teenager I couldn’t see myself in him at all.
My father was excellent with numbers, I hated maths. My mother loved literature, as did I, but was very open about the fact that she was less able to put her feelings on paper the same way I was.
My father had a steadfast belief and trust of authority and military life (joining the armed forces as a teenager) and my mother was a business woman. Everything she touched in business turned to gold. I questioned authority to a certain extent (as much as my respect would allow) and although I always hoped I would make my own money one day, I was determined not to be a business woman. I hated sales and had no interest in wearing a suit every day of my life.
These people who were tied to me by blood seemed so totally removed from the person I thought I was.
But then I think most teens would say the same.
I chose to surround myself with artistic types. Painters, writers, musicians. I was desperate to ‘find myself’ (god that phrase seems so contrite, but it’s true).
Later in life I went searching for something that would help me make sense of myself. I looked for my family. My father had little contact with his family, and so I had little knowledge of who they really were. Finding them was the first step to truly understanding where my personality came from.
I hoped that through meeting them I would find a ‘missing piece’ – for one of them to be an author, a singer, an artist. For someone to have the same political views as me. Something that would make me understand.
It’s the whole nature-nurture argument. Am I who I am because of how I was raised, or was my personality pre-determined before birth? Am I who I am because of my DNA, or was it down to the environment I grew up in?
To a certain extent I found what I was looking for, but in the most obscure way.
What I unearthed was the reasons why my parents were the way they were. I found a man (my grandfather) who made me understand why my father is the way he is. Why he himself holds his own family so dear and why he still fights to keep those who mean the world to him so close. I found a mother (my grandmother) who made me understand why so many different personalities in a family can lead to conflict.
I realised that my father, at the tender age of 17 when he joined the forces, was searching for much the same thing I was; a connection to someone or something that helped him make sense of the world – and why he was so different to his own parents. The military gave him his answers and my mother gave him the family and support he thought he had been looking for.
I soon realised that in all honesty, the reason we leave home as teenagers is because we are not meant to live with our family. Not in the long run anyway.
They are there to teach us lessons, but we are supposed to search for our ‘own kind’ outside of our own village. As humans we are programmed with curiosity, with drive and passion. We are given a DNA strand that makes us look to the distant stars and one day decide that we will land on one of them.
Staying within the confines of a family means you never take a risk, never search for adventure, never learn or grow.
My grandparents have not been in my life long, but what they have taught me has been truly priceless. My outlook on life changed the day I realised that I didn’t have to be ‘like’ my family to appreciate them. I didn’t have to have the same goals as my parents to be loved by them or indeed look at the world in the same way, to appreciate that we love in the same world.
Take a look at your own family. Each and every one of them. Whether you talk everyday, only once a year or even if you have not spoken to them in a decade; ask yourself, what has the relationship with that person taught you?
The love you feel for them does not always have to be unconditional, and the lessons will not all be positive. But that is family.
Your family are there to teach the lessons you will need in life to face each and every obstacle you will be placed in front of. If you can fight with your brother, hurt each other and still find a way to forgive, forget and sit around the dinner table at Christmas, that in itself is a skill that will forever help you adapt to difficult situations.
Learning to forgive those who are closest to you and therefore can hurt you the deepest will help you learn to forgive those around you that mean much less. That nasty boss that you have to forgive to be able to excel in your profession. Or the sister-in-law that you know you will never be close to, but you have to learn to tolerate for the sake of the family. These ‘family’ tests essentially set you up to learn the lessons that will help you through the life you will build outside of them.
If you can look at someone in the same bloodline as you and think ‘I don’t understand how they can possibly believe in that way of life’, but still join them at the wedding of someone you love, surely you can look at a stranger and understand that not everyone will have the same views.
Family is love. Family is caring. Family is a bond that can never and will never be broken. But family is there to teach us. Not to define us.
Not to cage us or encase us in a life full of struggle. Family should mean freedom; a group of people who let us be independent enough to walk away, to try living our own life and to always know we have somewhere or someone to bounce back to. Family should provide stability and security, but it is not always supposed to be easy. If it was, what lessons would we learn?
All my life I have watched other families and wondered why, from the outside, they look so happy and carefree when my own family life seemed to consist of tearing one other apart, leaving nothing but fractured relationships and opposing life values.
I looked at those families and wondered what I had done wrong.
As I write this now I realise that the strong, independent person I am, and the values I hold dear, are the direct result of the things I learnt growing up with the family I was given.
Loyalty was the biggest rock that our foundations were built upon. But as I age, I realise that loyalty to yourself, your own beliefs and your own heart is what matters most.
Family – the definition: it needs to be changed. It is more than just a collection of people who share the same bloodline. Family is the biggest life lesson you will ever learn. They are the people you will love to hate through your teenage years, and regret questioning in your later years.
My family, as a whole, have taught me that it is okay to love someone but not always like them.They are the only ones who will challenge you to find your own personality. It is okay to know that they are your family but you don’t have to have the same opinions or values. It is normal to look at the ones who brought you into the world and still seek out someone who is compatible to share your life with.
So what is family?
Family is everything. Every single member of your clan, close or extended, are there to teach you something you need to know to be able to function in the outer world. So don’t be scared to sometimes be disappointed by them, or even disappoint them in return.
That is life, those are the lessons you are supposed to learn. They are the emotions you need to learn and the safest way to learn them is with those who would never (or should never) turn their backs on you.
They should allow you to fuck up in the most incredible ways and still know that you have a safety net and somewhere to come ‘home’ to.