Reconstituted Families and the Holidays

In July 1990 I attended my 10 year high school reunion.  At the time, I was married to a handsome engineer, I had just graduated with my MBA, I had been the Executive Director of an Atlantic based health charity for just over a year and I was pregnant with my first child.  I thought I had it made.  Not in a million years would I have imagined how the shape of my life would have shifted 20 years later:  I have three children by two fathers and am twice divorced.  My two older children, now young adults, were born in my first marriage and my youngest, now 8 years old, was born in my second marriage.  Add to this, my mother is in long term care with dementia.  My father lives alone in the house they shared.  My brother also lives alone but in PEI.  And, since finding out I was adopted a few years ago, I now have birth family members in my life.  Over the holidays, to say the least, we are “stretched” in many different directions.

As I experience the comings and goings of my family over this holiday season and the times we are altogether, especially me and my three children, and as I am in conversations with so many of my friends in similar circumstances, I have been reflecting on “reconstituted families” – or, the term I became acquainted with through the adoption world, family constellations.

I like the term family constellations because it enables me to think of my vast array of family and friends, the various ways they show up in my life, and how they are connected to their constellations of family and friends, in an appreciative mode.  If I think of it any other way, I will be sad with feelings of “not enough” – not enough time with my children or my friends, not enough dinners, presents, experiences – what I’m missing instead of what I have.

What I have more than enough of  in my life and my relationships is love.  I have an abundance of love that overflows onto each of my children – individually and collectively – and onto my whole extended family and well beyond that to the people and relationships that I care deeply about – of which I also have an abundance.

I learned in my family growing up that friends can be like family and I experience that richly in my life.  I call them my soul family, knowing that we are finding each other along the way and feeling deeply grateful for how we enrich each others lives.  Some days I can hardly believe how rich I am.

When I greet my days, and my children in particular as I think about our family constellations over the holidays, with love, then there is enough.  It is perfectly right that they also spend time with their dads.  And it’s okay for me to visit with them at their dads’ place and vice versa.  Yes, please come in.  Please come visit – peak into a little part of your son’s life when he is not with you.  It is perfectly right that my children spend time with each other and with their friends.  There is enough time.  There are enough occasions.  There is an amazing amount of joy.  Even when I am the only one home.  I’m not lonely.  I don’t feel sorry for myself.  I feel grateful that these amazing children, friends and family are in my life, filling me up every single day.  I don’t need to be in their presence to feel full of them – although I love being in their presence too.

For those of us who live in increasingly complex family constellations, flood them with love (even when and where you are reluctant to do so – especially when you are reluctant to do so) and see how much love comes flooding back to you.  It is enough.  We are enough.  You are enough.  And in being enough, somehow we become more than enough and delight fills the space, as does joy and wonder.

I and my children may not live or experience a “traditional” family unit, but we fully live and experience the one that has unfolded in our lives, we are grateful for each other and the fullness of our family constellations and find our selves in a beauty and grace to be treasured.