The concept of family is not fixed. It cannot be, because families grow and shrink as life unfolds. However there are some concepts that become fixed in your life, I used to define myself as an only child. I rather enjoyed the title, it apparently explains many things to people and it excuses you from certain things…such as it is understood if you are a bit selfish, or you don’t offer food readily, or you have a problem sharing clothes with friends because you are not used to having siblings raiding your wardrobe.
I have made my friends into my adopted siblings, so I have two honorary older sisters and an older brother and a select few are my twins. These are the friends who have seen me through the mist of tears and the wrinkle making laughing times. I find solace and comfort with these people and I cherish them…I suspect much like siblings cherish each other. Or at least, this is my perception of what having brothers and sisters is like. Like I said, I’m an only child.
Contrary to popular belief only children do not always feel lonely, nor do they always crave siblings. I like my own company, and no I did not have imaginary friends who kept me company. I just find it wonderful being by myself and drifting off into worlds of my own, the past the present the future and parallel worlds. I exist in all of them. Only in one of those worlds do I imagine I have brothers and sisters. There was a part of me that longed for the relationship I saw growing between my friends and their siblings, despite feeling content and happy I knew it would also be wonderful having a sister or a brother (preferably an older brother with good looking friends). People who had your back no matter what. People who were tied to you by a bond that was invisible, but stronger than fishing line.
Five years ago I found out I was not technically an only child anymore. I was told that I had a half-brother and sister. Suddenly the fixed nature of my self-definition of only child status became a bit hollow. I was 20 at the time…twenty years is enough time for a defining characteristic to become engrained. I felt like a fish that has been caught and suddenly reeled out of the water, the oxygen seemed to disappear from the space around me and I wondered why I had even been told and how I was going to deal with this new information. It felt like it was too late, I had lived an entire lifetime already (or so it seemed at the time).
But I do recall being happy about this too, it is difficult to reconcile having conflicting emotions simultaneously…I was awash with clashing emotions and I found it impossible to breathe if I thought about this new addition to my concept of family. So I didn’t think about it. I went forward as though nothing was different. And if you’re the only one who knows something then there is no pressure to change.
My father left my mother before I was born. He married someone else and they had two children. In the meantime I was growing up as a single child in a single parent home. My father paid maintenance and that was the extent of his involvement in my life. I have the most wonderful and loving mother in the world, she has helped define my outlook on life, she is the reason that I am not totally emotionally dysfunctional and a delinquent. She made sure that I knew that I was loved and that it was not my fault that her relationship with my father had not been successful.
The sense of abandonment still lingers though, rationally I know that it was not my fault, the person who I am today had no role to play in their relationship dying. But he still made no effort to acknowledge me.
A year ago I could no longer bear not knowing who my father was and what it might be like having a brother and sister. I needed acknowledgement and I needed peace of mind. So I arranged to meet my father. I suspected that his family had no idea about my existence. I had four years to mull over having siblings, which was still an abstract idea having never met them. However I had wrapped my head around possibly making space in my life for more family. I was right he had not told his children that they had an older sister. Unlike me they wanted to meet straight away, they were ready to make their family bigger. I was not ready, having orchestrated this initial meeting I had no strength left to also embrace a brother and sister. I felt it would be a betrayal to me and to them, I knew I would fake being happy and then it would crumble as quickly as it had begun.
I needed to grapple with my emotions before I could face them. How could I not be jealous of my half siblings? How can I not envy them having a loving father? How could I not turn green knowing that they had a father to turn to, someone who wanted to be in their lives. The same someone who refused to give me any recognition.
Rationally I knew it was not their fault, and so I had to work through all of this resentment and anger first, it wouldn’t be fair hauling all that baggage to a first meeting with them. I have made contact with them, we email each other fairly regularly and in this way I can get to know them independently of our father. This way we can slowly find out about what makes us tick…the similarities and the differences.
This is the beginning of totally foreign territory, and like any successful explorer I am going slowly. If we keep with the new territory analogy then I want this to be a thriving and fertile space. I want this space between us to be friendly and honest.
The stretching of my concept of family has taught me a few things. Sometimes you have to be the adult in your life because the adults are too crippled by their own pasts to know what you need and how they should act. Listen to your heart and take as much time as you need in a situation that you know is too big to handle all at once…that way you can be fair on the people around you who are also affected by your actions emotional baggage.
The family of friends that you have surrounded yourself with knows you, trust them with your trials and let them help you. Never be ashamed to seek help from a professional. The only reason I had the strength to meet my father and begin a relationship with my siblings is because I knew I couldn’t do this alone and it was not fair on my family and friends to expect them to be able to handle this any better than me. So I went to a psychologist and we did this together.
And lastly, the definition of yourself that you have carefully created over the years will change, mostly this is an organic change and you hardly notice the evolution and sometimes the force with which you are confronted with a new sense of self is totally overwhelming at first…but then you absorb that too. Your life is fluid and you are capable of overcoming any trials.