I have always been and will always be open about my rather conventionally unconventional family background. Although in Britain nowadays, it can hardly be considered uncommon for a child to be brought up by divorced or separated parents when I have considered in a linear fashion, the exact events that took place in my childhood I allow myself to safely consider my own childhood somewhat uncommon. But even if I disregard such events, I remember always feeling that my family set up was very much different from my peers whether their parents were separated or not.
Growing up as a younger child in the not so wealthy part of South Liverpool bordering on Toxteth, I met many children who’s parents could be considered unusual on the basis of age, sexual inclination, marital status or socio-economic status. However one thing that they all seemed to share that I didn’t, was the existence of a substantial extended family in close proximity to themselves. Whether little Chloe’s mummy left her daddy and ran off with one of the dinner lady’s son or not, the fact remained that both her and her sister still benefited from a wider support network of a family. Various aunts and uncles, grandparents and cousins; there would be no end of support and guidance for the two girls.
In contrast, little old me had no siblings and certainly no other physically or emotionally close family members on either my mother or my father’s side. To make matters slightly more different to those of my peers, my mum moved a considerable to distance from my dad to the other side of Liverpool making it a sizeable commute to go from parent to parent especially for a youngster who could only rely on such parents to negotiate her way from one to the other. Apart from other things it meant that I experienced a rather disjointed and diluted social life for a considerable while.
The lack of a close family network made the inevitable difficulties of parents’ new partners, their failings, challenging step siblings and huge bouts of loneliness and worry a lot harder and more confusing for a developing child and then teenager to deal with. Even as I have gotten older, the fallout caused by the various step-parent dramas not to mention my own parents’ misdemeanors has highlighted the lack of a family unit for support.
A couple of years ago I had decided that I would spend Christmas alone abroad somewhere as it has never been a particularly joyous occasion for me for one reason or another. My dad was naturally dismayed at this and tried to come up with a Christmas that I may actually enjoy where I could feel part of a family. He organised that we would go to Ireland to spend it with the Aunty and Uncle that I have always had more of a relationship with than any other family members (still not exactly close) but I did rate them; my Uncle being hilariously funny in an almost accidental sort of way and my Aunty being a lovely, caring person.
So it was agreed that we would go. The problem was the day before we were leaving to go my dad told me that he and his partner were of the opinion that I was unconscientious, self absorbed and ungrateful and impolite. I won’t labour the conversation that we had or even justify these past allegations but safe to say I was hurt beyond words at yet another betrayal from my father and -needless to say- the sanctimonious full on character assassination. Thus it made for a very hard trip to Ireland, where I could barely stand to hear my dad talk and make falsely affectionate gestures . Needless to say my mood was dark and this definitely showed to my not so understanding relatives, as of course my father didn’t want to admit how he had conveyed his and his partner’s opinion of me to me. Not only would they be shocked at how they could be so callous but they would also presumably make him see that this was wildly inaccurate.
Instead I was presented to them as a problem child (as usual) with no further explanation other than I was finding it difficult to adjust to his not so new girlfriend. Pardon me when I say, “what a dick.” So my Aunty and Uncle who also happen to be my Godparents were too left under the impression that I was rude and ungrateful and all the rest. As there was no wider close-knit family to give the event some context, so their opinion remained, pushing me further from any sort of happy family relationship. Needless to say I was wounded that they allowed their selves to form such an opinion without any consultation or reaching out to myself and even after I returned to England and called my Aunty to apologise and explain I received to comfort or words of reassurance and understanding.
A couple of years later on the day of my – what should have been a proud – graduation, the lack of a wider family was accentuated as it has been so many times before. A few days before my dad had once again put it to me that I was proving to be a problem for his extraordinarily sensitive girlfriend. Apparently my instances of lack of punctuality were in fact indications that I was rebelling against their relationship; my use of my phone at the dinner table was a direct shun to all present telling them I did not want their company; and my failure to gush over standard practices of decency from the demon-step mother herself was as good as me attempting to shove her head in the oven.
On this particular day, after the repetitious fall out, my dad turned up without any camera and with apparently no desire to buy graduation pictures or do any of the normal activities that the proud parents surrounding us were doing with their newly graduated off-spring. He came with no words or cards of congratulations of other would-be family members, no promises of a later celebration with more of the family clan, just a horrible atmosphere stinking of “my partner’s telling me you’re a witch and I don’t have the balls to say any different”. Sad, but terribly true.
As a result of instances such as this, without the solid, steady and unconditional support of family I am ashamed to say that I had become somewhat bitter and resentful about the concept of families. In a similar way that someone deprived of an obvious talent may become resentful of those who have been blessed with one such talent and indulged with compliments and praise. Although this may legitimately strike you as an odd paradox I can only be honest in my complete sense of having been deprived of the basic privilege of a family. Something which I so badly desired.
Consequently I have always been aware of my sensitivity towards fitting in with other peoples’ families whether it be friends of mine or the family of a partner. I was – childishly so – terribly jealous of the fact that they had one and I had none. It also meant that the inevitable event of family gatherings made me terribly uncomfortable as I had no previous experience of such events. No schemas in these areas had been able to be generated having been completely without exposure to this type of event and the consequential dynamics, etc.
Having such negative experiences in the “family” that I have experienced and having developed an acute sensitivity and resentment to other people merely enjoying their right to have a close family, I considered myself surely doomed. Done over by childhood experiences, in a true Freudian way. I was devoid of the tools and motivation to forge positive relations…
Good news though. It turns out that this is not the case! Having been dropped in the metaphorical deep-end, by the (turns out) happy circumstances of being temporarily homeless during relocation to London, and having to stay at my boyfriend’s parents’ house for around a month has done me the world of mental good. Although I observe that coming from a bigger family is not without its own challenges, I still see these as comparatively small to be in the fortuitous position of having one. Being emerged in someone who is pretty special to me’s own family has shown me that I need not bear the weight of a lonely only child of a broken family of two! I am actually in the incredibly fortunate position to join someone else’s family and perhaps even one day, create a happy one of my own. (Don’t worry darling, not for a few years yet, eh?!)
But much more remarkable than this realisation (I always knew it was theoretically a possibility), is the fact that I can also happily appreciate how wonderful having a family truly is without an ounce of resentment. This probably sounds a minor achievement but to me it is really quite astounding. I know now what an amazingly basic but shockingly beautiful and inspiring pleasure it is to be a part of something almost of inexplicable stability and the amazing thing is… this incredible phenomena doesn’t need good fortunes nor riches nor power to have… and now for the cheesy part…. it just needs love with a hint of compassion.
I have always been living proof- if only to myself- that the past can exert weird influences over us, but now I am happy to say that these can also be overcome as we also have the ability to open ourselves up to experience. In my case, it is an undescribable love for and trust in my partner, that allowed me to open myself up to situations that I whole-heartedly would have shied away from. This has had an effect on my own “pseudo-family” relationships, which have in turn also become much more positive and healthy.
Now it is not so much forging positive relations, but allowing them to happen.
(Apologies for the long post)
… I have made this letter longer, because I have not had the time to make it shorter.Blaise Pascal