Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Searching for My Tribe

I was talking with a friend the other day about how the definition of family changes over the course of our lives. I noted that for me, when I first married my ex-husband, I went through a very conscious process of redefining my primary family unit. It was no longer my immediate nuclear family, my parents and sister and me; instead, it was my new husband and me (and the cat, Juliette, of course). Because I live halfway across the country from my parents and don't have what some would politely call an overly meddlesome mother, this process was relatively uncomplicated for me. I just reorganized a few priorities, trying to think of my husband and myself as a single unit that needed to be respected as such. I was lucky that my parents instinctively understood my need to do this.

I was also lucky that when my marriage failed, my parents immediately welcomed me back into my old family unit as if I had never distanced myself from them in the first place. The process felt very seamless - in fact, it felt like there was no process at all. Unconsciously, I think I assumed that they would continue to be my "family" until I remarried. But now that I'm a very different adult with more life experience under my belt and some very strong beliefs in my head, I find myself questioning whether that is possible.

Part of the process of separation, divorce, and beginning to define myself as an independent human being required me to clarify who I am, what matters to me, what I want out of life, and ultimately, who I want to be. While I remain a work in progress, I have begun to develop some clear ideas about these things. However, some of those ideas have become cause for conflict with some members of my family. We're not talking about anything extreme or bizarre here. I haven't joined a secretive cult or decided to sell all my possessions and rechristen myself "Starchild Moonbeam, Daughter of the Mountain Spirits" (not that there's anything wrong with that, I just happen to like my possessions and my name perfectly well). The ideas I've embraced are relatively simple and straightforward: valuing honesty and authenticity highly in my life, embracing my sense of self and my voice, honoring my inherent worth, and not allowing others to pressure me into abandoning those things. I have paused several times to ask myself whether these new values, beliefs, and self-images I am asserting are worth the potential strife; I have repeatedly come to the conclusion that for me, yes, they are.

This leaves me wondering how I can successfully operate within a family that, for whatever reasons, doesn't share some of the values that I have. And I truly mean it when I say I am wondering how I can do this. The notion of extracting myself from my nuclear family altogether is unappealing. However, right now it seems highly unlikely that I can be the person I want to be and remain a fully integrated member of it. 

And this brings me back to the changing definition of family. Perhaps I was mistaken in thinking that the family that worked for me before my marriage would be the same family that would work for me after my divorce - I am a different person, after all. Perhaps, in this phase of my life, my new "family" will be a cobbling together of my blood relatives and the cluster of friends who have been so supportive of me. Perhaps, as part of my exploration of who I am and who I want to be, I also need to consider a redefinition of the family I embrace.

Note: The title of this post was borrowed from a good friend of mine who described the process of finding her core group of friends who share her values as "finding her tribe." 


I Am Gracie B said...

i love how you describe finding your new family - a cobbling of relatives and friends. it's nice to have your family who will always be there, but i think "family" can change (has to change?) as life goes on.

oh, and btw - "moonbeam" is an old nickname of mine. moon is my middle name. :)

Erin said...

@AmusingGrace: I agree. I think family has to change as you progress through life. For me, the most important thing will be to surround myself with people who love me, who support me, and who challenge me.

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