Belief. It’s one of the most powerful forces that there is. People will kill for their beliefs and people will willingly die for them. Our beliefs, about all manner of things, shape the way that we see the world and our place in it. Our relationships with others and our relationship with ourselves will reflect and often amplify these beliefs.
Given the importance of our beliefs in defining the world around us it is no surprise how difficult it can be to change our beliefs, particularly those that go to the core of who we are and how we believe the world ‘ought’ to be. Indeed, as humans we are prone to ‘confirmation bias’ – unconsciously seeking and reinforcing the things that affirm our beliefs and keep us safe in a world that conforms to the way in which we perceive it to be.
Perhaps amongst the beliefs that shape us the most are our beliefs about family. I always believed in the strength of family and I grew up, like many I expect, with the idea that family was of a particular, traditional shape; you know, mam, dad and children living together in peace and harmony – ok, scratch the last bit – until the children flew the nest (whilst maintaining a long-term account with the Bank of Mam & Dad).
That’s not the way that things have worked out for me.
Sometimes we are forced by life to re-examine and reshape our beliefs to accommodate a new world view that is completely different to the one we held before events conspired to shake the foundations upon which those beliefs were built.Enter: divorce.
Since 2014 I have been a single parent of two wonderful young children and count myself as one of the fortunate dads that has shared custody of his children. In the three years since my family changed forever I have blogged about divorce and its impact and have recently been made to realise how fine the line is that I had been treading, between catharsis and allowing myself to become too closely identified with my past. Our past shapes us but that doesn’t mean that it has to define us; indeed, if we allow ourselves to identify too strongly with our past how do we truly embrace the future that has yet to be written?
But this isn’t about the past. This is about now, and a redefinition of what family means to me. It is about acceptance of what is, unhaunted by the ghosts of what was.
Recently I created a gallery of my family, a gallery that hangs (finally, DIY was never my strong point) on the staircase at home. The gallery contains many photographs of my children and I and each one of them radiates smiles, happiness and love. There are no signs of the challenges of the past 3 years, no trace of the tears that have been wiped away. Perhaps most importantly for me, there is no remaining sense that something or someone is missing.
This is our family, this is our gang and we face the world together, the three of us.
Of course, there is another member of our family and my children are fortunate to have a mother that loves them every bit as much as their father does.
Our family might not have the shape of my traditional belief but there is nothing broken about my family. Of course there are things that could be better but that is true of all families. My beliefs about family have changed but the foundations upon which my family is built remains unchanged – love, stability, and being there for our children whenever they need us.
Getting to this point has taken time. There is nothing in the preceding paragraphs that I didn’t consciously know three years ago but the journey from knowing to acceptance is one that must be travelled, and I didn’t notice any shortcuts on my way.
In the rollercoaster journey of the last few years there have been many times during which I have yearned to regain a lost sense of stability in my life but really it was there all along. It’s there in my children, in the wonderful new relationships that we have built between ourselves. Whatever happens from here on, whatever life brings our way, there will always be our family.
There will always be us.
You Are Your Mother’s Child – Conor Oberst