The Art of Belonging
My daughter and I are in a craft shop and there are series of mindful colouring posters on sale. One reads ‘Bloom where you are planted’. Its naff, but there is something in the message that brings me to reflect on blooming wherever it is that you are planted. On the Art of belonging.
My parents are civic minded. They are a part of their community. They belong because they a connected on many levels to the people and place they chose to raise our family. Growing up I saw first hand how it was done. This belonging thing was something I took for granted, being rooted in a place and a people seemed effortless to the child in me. I could not imagine life any other way.
Fast forward twenty years of growing up and I am faced with the challenge of cultivating in my own family that sense of belonging. And I have learnt that there is an art to this belonging. And it is an art to be cultivated.
I am the eldest child in a family of seven. My mother and father have worked and served side by side in the country town I was born into for much of their adult life. I went to the same preschool, primary school and secondary school. Growing up I was surrounded by friends I have no recollection of not knowing. I never knew what it was like to start at a new school, new church, new town. I never knew how it felt to be an outsider. I took for granted my belonging.
On the first day of school this year, my eldest daughter bounded into school with a look of sheer joy on her face. She turned to me as we walked amongst other parents and children saying hello and sharing tales of summer holidays. “Mum, I am so happy that I am coming back to the same school.” Her gratitude for belonging brought the limitations of our itinerant life into sharp focus.
What a precious gift this fleeting sense of belonging is to our girl. Precious because it is not how it has always been. Nor is it how it always will be.
You see, our eldest has never known what it is like to return to the same school after the summer break. She knows being the new kid, spending months figuring out who is who and where she fits. She knows being the kid who is lauded as resilient and adaptable, but does not know what it is like to belong effortlessly.
So how do we cultivate belonging in our family? There are a few things we have done over the years to surround ourselves with community in places that are not our own.
- Say Yes! to everything.
People will open their homes and lives to you if you just say yes. We have been humbled by the generosity and openheartedness of virtual strangers. They have invited us to be a part of their lives, their hobbies, their home towns and their friendship groups. We have said yes to Brazilian jujitsu, marching in parades, various sports, outdoor activities, community groups and a broad variety of faith communities. We have made it a general rule to withhold judgment and embrace these invitations and have found that good things come when you say yes (even when you feel like saying no).
- Build stability within your own family unit
We have been intentional over the years about giving our children a strong sense of what it means to be a citizen of our family. We have stuck with family traditions and customs that travel with us wherever we go. The rhythm of our week and year as a family has been grounding for us all. The simplest things, be they movie nights, advent calendars or a book before bed can nourish a family who are undergoing change.
- Find your tribe
We are a Christian family and have found that wherever we go we have been nurtured by our faith community. We have been blessed with pastoral care and instant community in places and with people that are foreign to us. We share a common faith. These communities have been a great comfort to us. We don’t however think that this is the only way to find your tribe. Any activity that allows you to gather with like minded individuals who share your values will place you in a tribe. Perhaps this looks like yoga and meditation to you, or a group bound by a shared love of sports, environmental action, or even a book group? The possibilities are endless, and boundless.
- Slow down and Hang out
We spend a lot of time in playgrounds, school yards and parks. Fresh air? Check. Physical activity? Check. New Friends? Check!
Some of our best friends, both big and little have been made in in public spaces. Life in apartments and town houses has forced us out into public spaces and what we have found in those places is a local community. We have found that if you slow down, linger a while, dawdle and daydream, that you will find others doing the same. These public spaces, the local park, the school yard, offer so much opportunity to connect to a place and to its people. After years of my girls saying “Lets go to the park and find some friends” I finally realise that they are way ahead of me. They are programmed to belong and form friendships, I am slowly learning from them.
- Encourage gratitude
When conversations arise, and they frequently do, about friendship and relocation we try to encourage gratitude for the grand adventure we are on. Yes, it is hard and sad to leave the friends and communities that we grow attached to. But, we remind ourselves and our children, how fortunate we are to have formed so many relationships and carry with us such varied treasured memories.
There is an art of belonging. With practice it brings an extraordinary and liberating confidence in our collective capacity to bloom where we are planted.