For some of you, it’ll seem quite bizarre that I’m having these feelings and writing this post at the grand, middle-age of 45. Others, I know, will understand.
Some of you have already had years belonging to your own family unit. I don’t mean your family of origin – your Mum, Dad, siblings etc. I mean a family unit that you’ve created outside of the one you were born or adopted into. Some of you kicked this off in your 20s, partnering up, getting married or becoming parents quite young. Acting like adults, even if you didn’t feel like it. Running homes. Having shared responsibilities or making big decisions about little people’s lives. Others did it in your 30s. But I’m only just experiencing it now (minus the little people). And it feels new, different, good and sometimes weird, so I thought I’d write about it.
When I signed up for the Seahorse Swim recently (2 km in the sea on July 3 – I’d better get training!), they asked for the details of two emergency contacts. For the last decade or so, I’ve given my brother’s details as my first ‘next of kin’, then Mum as my second. I figure my brother will be more able to cope in a crisis than my Mum and she’s also often out and doesn’t have a mobile phone. Prior to that, when Mum was a bit younger, she was my first emergency contact.
This time, I gave my partner’s name and number first. Then my brother’s after that.
I’ve given my partner’s name as an emergency contact before over the past 18 months or so, but doing so hasn’t come all that naturally. I’ve had to pause and think about it. But this time, I hesitated less. I didn’t think about it very much at all. And I smiled as I did it, enjoying the new sense of belonging I feel. That’s because since we moved in, nearly four weeks ago now, I feel like we’ve created our own little family unit. Families don’t need to be of 3, 4, 5 or 6. They don’t necessarily need to consist of adults and kids.
A family of 2 is family enough to be a family.
It’s a small thing in many ways but for someone who’s been so independent for so many years and single, on and off, for a reasonable amount of time, and whose family role to date has always been that of daughter and sister, being part of my own family unit marks a really big shift. The closest I came to this was back in my Mexico days when I felt part of a large family of sorts – a group of people all in our 20s, living very similar lives, hanging out in each others’ homes, partying until dawn. It was great fun and I felt like I belonged, but we were young and it was different to what I have now.
For me, this is the more grown-up version. The culmination of a long journey I’ve been on.
It’s odd. Little has changed but then so much has changed. I’ve matured. I’ve committed to a relationship. I’ve bought a house with my partner. And I’m now starting to inhabit my role as a member of my new family with confidence and a real sense of belonging. We spent the weekend painting walls in matching overalls. I’m enjoying making dinner for us both. And I love hanging the laundry out to dry in the fresh, sea air! (It’s funny – I used to get my kicks from flying on helicopters in disaster zones. Now I get a real buzz from watching the laundry blow in the wind! Age? Maturity? Recovery?)
These are good feelings. I feel happy, safe and loved. And when I don’t feel those things, I know it’s my mind playing tricks on me, trying to sabotage the good stuff, looking for reasons to create a catastrophe, so I just ignore it and remind myself of the truth.
So what if you don’t have your own family unit and you dearly want it? What if you’re reading this as a single person who no longer wants to be, as someone who wants to feel part of their own little family?
I don’t have any answers, other than my own experience. I returned to someone who I’d previously dismissed not because he necessarily ticked all the boxes my head had drawn up, but because, when I’m around him, I laugh a lot, relax and feel peace. My washing machine mind stops whizzing around so much. I feel secure. I feel accepted. I feel free to be me, in all my silliness, to sing and dance around in my pjs.
I did a lot of ‘work on myself’ (I dislike that phrase!) to get here. It was a process of letting go of fixed ideas of what my future should look like. It was a process of taking risks. And it was a process of learning to tame deep-rooted behaviours and responses that make me want to run away from, judge, criticise or control the person I want to be with or jeopardise my chances of happiness.
That’s just a brief summary. The rest of the story is going in the book. So I’d better get back to that!