One of the beautiful things about being an adult is getting to create one’s own family. Our blood-related families often do not provide us with all of our needs and wants. In families where there has been abuse or neglect reparative experiences with others outside of the family are necessary for emotional healing and growth. At this point in time society is finally beginning to accept and bask in the beauty that families are not one mom, one dad, 2.5 kids, a house with a white picket fence, a cat, and a dog. A family is a group of people who have decided to come together to love and support one another. I, and many people I know, have created families out of a hodgepodge of adults and kids. There are marriages, couples, singletons, children of varying ages and attachments to biological parents and close friends who have become family, a vast array of needs and wants for support and love that somehow get met outside of what we have all been taught a nuclear family should look like. When things are going well, it feels like home – the past gets healed, the present gets nurtured, and the future feels less scary.
And then, life happens. Things we never saw coming hit us head on. People we love and thought we knew so well make choices and do things we never in a million years would have expected and are totally unprepared for. These situations can be even further complicated when one is not biologically or legally bound through marriage or adoption. What happens when a created family gets thrown into turmoil? I’m sure many would say, “Walk away. Leave.” What if that is not the right choice for us? As Pema Chödrön wrote, “The challenges are to give in, to surrender our way of doing things, and not split when we feel threatened. Basically, the challenge is to be genuine – to feel our pounding heart or shaking knees or whatever it is, and stick with it.”
As someone who is part of a created family that is in the midst of painful, swirling chaos, I am going to pose a lot of questions that I do not yet have the answers to. I pose these questions to get everyone thinking and engaged in healthy dialog, families that fit the stereotypical molds and families that do not. If you have answers to any of these questions, please feel free to share what has worked for you and your family.
How is space created for everyone to have his or her feelings? How do we acknowledge that everyone has a different relationship to the person that toppled the house of cards and therefore will have different feelings and different needs? How do those that are especially close keep clear boundaries so that enmeshment of feelings does not occur? How do we hold space to openly, without anger, resentment, or blame, accept when we have hurt someone and when we have been hurt? How do we create healthy space and separation when needed without shutting someone out completely or making someone feel further hurt or without support? How does someone who is very close, but not fully part of the nucleus containing the people most affected by the turmoil continue to receive support and space for his or her feelings within the family? How do we acknowledge and work through old wounds that have been re-exposed by the current situation in ways that are healing and reparative to all involved, as opposed to destructive and hurtful? How do we steer away from judgment and blame? How do we act and speak from a place of love even when we are deeply hurt? How do we stay open and receptive regardless of how vulnerable and scared we feel?
I leave you with the wise words of Pema Chödrön and two songs, one from my past and one from the present, that resonate strongly with all the feelings I am currently sifting through.
“Things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing. We think the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together and they fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.”