Making the choice of whom we hold dearest
No longer does the nuclear family consist of a mom, a dad and 2.5 children. The meaning of family has changed into something beautifully complex and includes friends, pets, potential spouses, roommates, grandparents and people we decide for ourselves.
A recent research project for the Calgary Journal has indicated you, our readers, want something more from the coverage of family. The research indicated 66 per cent of respondents wanted more coverage on issues affecting families, as well as more on issues affecting youth and seniors. This coincides with findings from the Poynter Institute that listed family and relationships as two of the top five areas of reader interest in the United States.
Making a family all your own is something I am familiar with. My mother did her best to love me and I always had a roof over my head, food in my belly and clothes on my back. But she is ill and tended to take this out on me.
At the age of 17, I took a job with a small collectables store. The manager at the store, Mary, had a wonderful sense of humour and you could see that she truly cared for the people who worked for her.
Eventually, I began to open up to Mary about the things I was dealing with at home. She listened without judgement and encouraged me to find my own way to happiness.
By the time I was 20, the situation at home came to a head. I had been fighting for years to establish my own life and separate myself from my mother’s problems but it had all become too much-so I left.
Looking back on it now, I know I could have gone back to my mother. She isn’t evil, or even a bad person, but she made me feel small, undesirable and like I was never good enough. Her illness took away much of my childhood. I couldn’t bring myself to go back to that.
It was Mary that came to my rescue and invited me to live with her and her husband Bruce. I didn’t want the hand out but I had no place left to go to and she was offering me a home.
At first I didn’t quite know where I fit within the family, but over time the feeling dissipated and I began to feel truly at home.
Mary had a difficult childhood herself and was able to help me see I was not alone. She understood my struggle to make sense of my blender of chopped up emotions. Most importantly though, Mary never made me feel like it was my fault I was damaged. She recognized it and encouraged me to fight my way past it, but she never forced the issue.
Mary and Bruce encouraged me to attend Chorney family events and afterwards they would be waiting to listen if things didn’t go well. However, after much disappointment it became clear it would never work with my mother.
Mary sat me down after the latest hurt from my mother and told me, “We don’t have to love them just because they are our parents.” She was right. A person can only take so much before the pain outweighs the love.
I’ve always loved Mary and Bruce but it has taken me some time to fully realize they are my family. They love me as a daughter and I love them as parents who I can turn to when my heart is breaking, when I have good news to share and when I feel like going home.
I don’t recommend walking away from the people who gave you life but in my case, it was the right choice. What I gained from it was the chance to decide who I am, how I want to be treated and whom I call my family.
The family I chose for myself is just one example of the new family unit. This new Calgary Journal section is not just for parents, but is for everyone. We all have relationships that affect us and shape us into newer versions of ourselves. This section will cover issues around parenting but it is also about relationships and the people we love. Welcome to Family Life.
-Co-editor Family Life