Family Ties

My family means the world to me.

It and of itself, I don’t think that this statement is remarkable; because of the family I have, I think it is extraordinary.

I will spare sordid details, but suffice to say, my family has it’s dysfunctions just like any other family. Tales of colorism, step and half siblings, maybe babies, and questionable moral choices are present, but are certainly not what I would consider central. Instead, the fact that I was brought up to bring that my family is my safe haven in bad times -the people who have my back no matter what- are the first things that come to mind. Family is love in my book.

In a training today,  I asked a question about broaching difficult subject matter with family, and why a person might chose to remain silent instead of making waves.  Due to time constraints, I didn’t have the opportunity to talk about why that might be difficult…but I have a blog…so, I’ll unpack it here.

In reflecting on my family stories I realize another reason I have issue with conflict; conflict meant that people would stop talking to each other. I realize I have at least 5 cousins that I know little about after a falling out between our parents. Despite the fact that we were close -or that I felt close to them- our parents falling out meant we didn’t get to talk, that keeping in touch was no longer an option. That says nothing about a biological  parent whose family I have literally walked past in the street and not known. It says nothing about fallings out that predated me but were the lens through which other family members judged me and my attempts at closeness.

I have never been to a family reunion. Many of the elders in my family that could inspire us to get together and “play nice” have passed. I miss the camaraderie, I miss being able to sit at their feet and hear the stories of how my family came to be where they were, why despite our midwestern birth we had southern ways. I think of the number of family members that have left this earthly plane in the past year who- when I am caught up on their lives stories- I am surprised at how much I don’t know. I think of the trust, love and respect that I have hard earned from some family members that I could stand to lose. I think of going back to feeling like an island, of feeling like woman without her-story, and not being able to pass that richness to my children. As much as they mean to me, I’m not sure it’s a gamble I am willing to make. I’d rather take them as I come and explain to my children that loving  family  doesn’t mean I always agree with them, but I that I give them the space to be who they are. I’d rather explain to my children that homogeny doesn’t prepare them for the world they might live in, though working toward tolerance also means understanding that everyone doesn’t agree. I’d rather them learn to find similarity and rhythm in a cacophony of beliefs. I’d rather them them decide for themselves the value of being right and being effective. I would rather them make a choice on how to live based on the weight of the options presented. I would rather love my family for better and for worse.

 

Unconditional Love….

I have been letting these words roll around in my head…and I’m finally ready to let them go.

In recent days, I have had a chance to stare love right in the face, and make a decision.  I am not an over or under lover. I love unconditionally.

For the first time, I understand that. For the first time, I know that everyone else does not have that same understanding.

This is a lesson that I learned over time, one cemented from me in a moment where I could have had all rights to cry, curse, complain, and disavow  a love that I have nurtured. In past times, I have loved despite distance, misunderstandings, lack of communication, and feeling hurt. That love was not a gentle love. I said things I could have said better, or things I shouldn’t have said at all as reaction to being hurt in the moment. I didn’t say things for fear of looking weak, or stupid. I walled up my defenses for fear of being seen as gullible and because lashing out let me strike the last blow or get the last hurt. I mastered appearing nonchalant and being nonplussed in the moment. I know now that those situations had divine purpose.

Recently, I have had conversations with the people I love about love. Conversations that helped me recognize the defenses I had mounted and conversations that made me realize that I no longer saw love as a battle or a prize to be won. I now see love as a way of being . Unconditional love doesn’t threaten to leave when things get tough, it recognizes mounted defenses and breaks past them to get to the root of the matter. Unconditional love recognizes when a fear of vulnerability, a fear of being found wanting, a fear of being seen as imperfect inspires deflection for fear of being seen in the naked light of the truth and being judged. Being able to love unconditionally allows for recognition of conditional love.

Conditional love is learned. When children feel that their parents love them for their accomplishments, they learn to love conditionally. When parents guilt try to make their children fit in a mold of who they want them to be, children who strive to fit the mold and hide and forsake parts of themselves learn to love conditionally. When children feel that one child is valued over the rest of their siblings for academic or athletic prowess, they learn to love conditionally. In a child’s understanding, they are the center of the world. Though children are inherently wise and innocent that child’s action -or inaction- can create new wisdom that makes that innate wisdom a lie. A child whose parents messily  divorce may strive to keep peace by being a model child, at which point being a model child can become viewed as the condition of their parents’ love, especially if doing so helps to maintain the peace. A child whose parents turn a childhood pastime into a means through which a child will repay the parents’ sacrifice, the child’s excellence in that pastime can becomes viewed as a condition of love. That view can become reinforced if the parents shift their attention to a child -and that can be a sibling, a cousin, or a stranger- whose star is on the rise when that child disappoints by losing interest or becoming injured. Parents who do not clarify that these interests and behaviors are a mere bonus to the love that the they have for the child simply because they were born to them set the stage to creating adults who only love conditionally.

Conditional Lovers are shocked to the core when they meet unconditional lovers, especially after a lifetime of feeling they they are loved conditionally. In adulthood, we meet them as men who cannot commit to women without feeling like they can financially provide for them. We meet them as men who would play on the fringes of love and
love women with their bodies instead of with their hearts. We meet them as women who do understand love as physical or emotional abuse. We meet them as women who would take pretty baubles over emotional support. Both fear and misunderstanding prevent them from being vulnerable and allowing a partner to see their true selves, because the first love they had ever known may not have been open to or allowed them to see that the true self is worth knowing, cultivating, and loving.

The beautiful thing is that no man, woman, or child is sentenced to love conditionally for a lifetime. Any one who has the courage to develop, explore, or share their most secret self can be gifted with and gift others with unconditional love.

The journey to unconditional love is not an easy one, but it is certainly one worth taking.

 

Letter to an unborn child

UUURGH?!

UUURGH?!

Now if your face is looking like my man’s, go re-read the title.  It says “an” unborn child, not “MY” unborn child.

I was talking to a friend the other night, and we talked about the inevitable conversation (and that might be a huge generalization, but it seems like it happens at one time or another) that parents have with their children about how the child’s life came about.

I’m not talking about the birds and the bees.

I’m talking about the fateful day that a child sits down with you and says “why did you decided to have kids/how did you get pregnant with me?”

Depending on the circumstances or the lesson you want to impart, you might tell the ugly truth. That being:

Your momma/daddy poked a hole in the condom

The condom broke

That ain’t sh*t Mofo tried to trap me

I like crazy p***y and I got caught up

If you say ANY of those things to a woman child, please slit your wrist the long way, you ignorant M#(*$)#($*)(*#!!!!

Would you say that to the little one?

I know that those things happen, and those REALLY could be the reason that your bundle of joy came along, but I don’t think there is a need to say things that harshly UNLESS you are trying to teach your man-child a lesson about how life can get REAL all of a sudden. Even then, I think it’s important to pick your words so that you convey the lesson as opposed to a message about what you think about the other parental party (or the opposite sex).

So why I am writing this post? I think it’s important for a parent to start sorting out his or her answer to that infamous question so that if the question should come up he or she isn’t caught off guard, ESPECIALLY if the situation really is one of those from above. Now, if you are in a loving, committed relationship and you jointly decided that having a child is what you wanted to do then I’m not talking to you. The only reason this might begin to apply is if somewhere down the line you find out that the loving relationship was something made for Maury…but I digress.

I also know that life isn’t always as neat as we’d like to make it sometimes. Sometimes children are products of abusive relationships, sometimes children are oops babies. Ultimately the “how” in those cases isn’t as important as how each parent accepts his or her responsibility.

Let me ALSO say, if you are NOT a parent that accepted responsibility, this isn’t a draft for you, ol poot butt self. FYI: that applies to men AND women. I’m a woman, but I thought I’d write from a male POV…just for fun.

You can email those to me...I'll laugh.

Dear Son or Daughter,

Finding out you were coming was one of the most interesting days of my life. It doesn’t matter how much you think about the day that you’re told you are going to be a father is coming, the reality is nothing like what you imagine. I’d be liar to say I wasn’t conflicted. I wondered if I could be everything you needed me to be. I wondered if I was in a place where I could be selfless enough to put you before me. I wondered how my relationship with your mother would unfold now that we added another person into the equation.

I have to say it was a roller coaster in a way. For some, 9 months can seem like a long time, but for me, I felt like it flew by. I tried to get ready for your coming. I talked to my boys, I talked to your mom, I talked to my father (figure). There were some days when I knew I could face whatever would come. There were some days when I had no idea what I was going to do. Then I saw you for the first time, and I was sure that there would be hard times, but that I would help you get through them. I knew that making sure that I gave you the best that I could would be my driving force.

Now, I know not all men see their children and fall in love (that’s part of the reason there are single mothers) but, if you are such a man, my kudos to you. I hope this letter helps you find the words to write your own letter if the need should arise.