Family, Creating a Place to Belong

Where do I belong?

I see it in my kids’ eyes when they look at me when we reunite after a weekend with their dads. It’s a quiet searching, a longing, an uncertainty reaching out for reassurance. It’s a question:

Where do I belong? Do I belong with you?

And I see it in their actions. As soon as we get home, they check their rooms, “Can I go see my room?” They flit around the house perching briefly here and there, noticing little changes, arranging and visiting their things before they “settle.”

Did anything change? Is it all how I left it?

Then, of course, there is their behavior. The limit testing – testing, not only whether they belong, but whether it is safe where they belong.

Are the rules the same? Is she the same?

And I remember it from my childhood – looking over my shoulder as I left one house, worrying forward as I approached the other.

Sometimes I felt like there were two me’s – one for each house I lived in, one for each set of parents. {Tweet}

In retrospect, I think there was.

(Does this experience also apply to “regular” families with “regular” kids? I think so. Share your thoughts in the comments!)

In school, I loved being on various teams. I know I’m not alone when I express how grateful I am to the coaches who build those teams. We were family when my own family was hard to belong to.

But even beyond the team itself, the places were the same, the rules were the same. When the rhythm of public school called for a migration into summer routines, on my return each year, I knew where I belonged with those people, in that place, under those rules.

Baby Bird Returning

Until recently, I was always just trying to either survive my family or help them survive the world, so belonging wasn’t anything I gave much thought to.

Do you remember the first place you felt a sense of belonging? What about the first time you wanted to belong to something?

(How would your children answer these questions? You could ask them.)

For most of us, the first place we felt like we belonged was our family. And for most of us, we certainly wanted to belong to it.

Did you always feel like you belonged to your family?

The winds of life lead us all in unexpected directions. Many of us have felt like we have lost at some point.

do you belong

This bird’s nest above the door at my mother’s house was there for years. I wonder if it is the same bird family that still lives there.

I’ve talked with several adults who had solid, secure childhoods but remember what it felt like when a bit of family news wasn’t shared with them, remember what it felt like when they discovered their childhood bedroom was turned into an office, or remember what it felt like when their parents divorced later in life.

They felt left out. Moved out – maybe betrayed. It was a disorienting time, a confusing experience.

I imagine it is like being a baby bird who after several flights from its nest, each trip growing longer and longer, returns one day to find the nest is no longer there – or that new birds belong there.

One more question: how does it feel to be confused about where you belong?

Family is a place

Though there are many sad origin stories, and though we may have wished it had all been different, for most of us our first family was our first opportunity to belong.

They were there before playmates. They were there before classmates and before first dates – before the man married and the children born. We took our first tentative flights into the world with our brothers and learned to navigate life from our parents. They roped us in, bound us to each other, drew us together until many became one, one thing to belong to – a family.

Family is a place to belong. {Tweet}

And when the greedy playmates, mean classmates and bad dates happen, by design, we can return to our nest and find that our family is still there.

This is why developing a strong family identity, so we know where we belong, is something we need. But where do we begin?

I don’t know.

When I went off to college, leaving behind my teams and friends and a youth group, the only belonging I felt was to an old boyfriend. (You can imagine how that worked out!)

I went reeling into the world without much to balance me for years. And it has been a cycle. Despite many ongoing, positive familial relationships, with the recent death of my mother, I feel once more uprooted.

So even now, in my more grounded state, developing a family identity – a place to belong – for my own children is a hard to figure out.

(That’s how {TFB} came about – because I was (and am) struggling with how to protect my children from feeling lost in their own family in its ever-changing state.)

What do you do for your family, if anything, to help your children belong? Do they remember their way home – do they recognize their nest?

This free workbook contains what I’ve learned so far.

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