Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Owning and belonging

When I got married a few years ago, I was adamant that I didn’t want to be ‘given away’. I was very happy to walk up the aisle with my dad, but was clear that I shouldn't be given from one man to another, because I didn’t belong to anyone. And no one should be owned by anyone else.

A sense of belonging

I’ve been thinking about this idea about belonging recently. Because now I miss it very much (read my story if you want to know why). It makes me realise how important it is that we tread a strange tightrope of freedom and containment. We want to be free to make our own choices and live our own lives, but we also want the sense of security and love that comes from belonging to someone.

Losing that sense of belonging is terrifying. I'd always insisted that I was more than just 'X's girlfriend/wife', and I hate the phrase 'my other half' because it suggests that you are in some way not whole. But suddenly not being that person left me questioning who I really was.

If you've belonged to someone for half your life, and they've belonged to you, it's hard to know where one of you ends and the other begins. Had I been lying to myself all that time, and pretending that I wasn't defined by my relationship, when maybe that was who I was? If so, then now, without it, I'm really just a bit of a person.

Feminism and belonging

I can't very well call myself a feminist if my entire sense of identity is bound up in the man/men in my life.

But ownership and belonging are two very different things. In some cultures, where women are treated like property, a man might be considered to own a wife, even to purchase one. In liberal western countries we don’t own each other, but we do belong.

What this means, is that the desire to belong to someone doesn't have to be anti-feminist, and wanting to be part of something doesn't have to diminish your identity.

The more people we belong to, the luckier we are, I think. As well as someone’s partner, we can be someone’s daughter, granddaughter, aunt, sister and niece. So much of who we are is bound up in our relation to other people, but that doesn't mean that we ourselves are any less complete.

Addressing the family

When considering motherhood in the past, I wondered why it would be necessary for my child to address me as ‘mum’ ‘or ‘mummy’. I’ve heard of people bringing their children up to call them by their first names, and in a way it makes sense to me. I don’t really like the word ‘mummy’.

Surely a child will know who his or her mother is - the person who is always there for them, who gets them up in the morning and loves and cares for them. Why do they need a special name for them? 

In deciding what my soon-to-be-born-child should call my parents, it occurred to me that when she is around, I will need to address them as her grandparents, whereas when I am alone with them, or addressing them directly, I will continue to refer to them as ‘mum and dad’. Won’t she find this confusing, I thought? If we all just called each other by our names, it would be a lot simpler.

I have decided not to go down this unorthodox route (my family situation is now quite confusing enough), but it was interesting to consider. As far as I'm aware, in most cultures children address their parents by special names. And I think that the reason for this is the strong feeling of belonging it fosters.

New belongings

When my daughter is born, she will belong to me. I will do everything for her, and it is most likely that she will become the centre of my world. But I won't own her.

As I see it, my job is to bring her into the world, and introduce her to it, bit by bit, until she's ready to face it on her own. And even then, I'll always be her mother. Hopefully she'll always feel a sense of belonging with me, and that when it all goes wrong, she can come back to me, as I've come back to mine.

1 comment:

  1. Love this Danny. We are ourselves only in relationship. (Which is why in my faith 'god' is a relationship rather than a single being.) As a new mum, I find it quite disconcerting that my babies are ALREADY independent of me. To be honest, I have a desire to own them and be their source of life and choices much more than I find to be the case. Letting go my control over them and working out how we 'belong' to one another started at day one.