There is so much noise all around me. The children are playing and a loud giggle bursts through the air every few moments; the teenage boys are sat in their spot talking amongst each other, some of them clearly attempting to make their voices sound deeper than they actually are; then there’s the rest of them, scattered across the crowded room — some sitting knee-to-knee on the sofa, others sitting knee-to-knee on the floor — and every single person is talking (some louder and more obviously than others, I must say).
This is my family, the group of people that God assigned to look after me until I was old enough to fend for myself. With many of us now grown up, married and with children of our own, times like these are few and far in between, and therefore extremely precious which is why I try my best to value every moment.
So, I sit in my spot on the floor, knees crossed, arms folded and take a moment to just listen to the conversations taking place all around me.
One person is talking about wedding clothes, another about the latest celebrity scandal. Another is talking to the newborn baby of the family as if she isn’t even a real person, and others are just sitting there complaining about this ailment and that bodily pain.
My ears search desperately for a little intelligent conversation: something that excites me, or moves me, or stirs the passion that is always bubbling away on the surface inside of me — but there is nothing. And there always has been nothing.
This got me to thinking… which person in this room actually truly knew the person they were speaking to? Was it possible that a room full of blood relatives could more greatly be likened to a room full of distant strangers instead?
It’s not just my family
Curious to know whether this occurrence was concentrated amongst my family only, I posed a question to my friends and followers on my social networks, asking for their complete honesty in answering the following question:
“How many people in your family know and understand the real you?”
I was overwhelmed by the honesty I received, with people displaying their thoughts, opinions and feelings very publicly on my Facebook status for all to see. I even received a message from someone who spilt their heart out to me, explaining about emotional and physical abuse they had been subjected to at the hands of their family.
Sifting through the tweets, comments and messages, I noticed one main underlying theme — that the majority of people who responded to my question felt like nobody in their family knew the real them. I’ll be honest, this actually really saddened me, knowing that there are so many of us in the world that probably feel alone in the one place we should feel most at ease — home.
But why is this? Why do our families not know who we are?
Culture and confusion
Personally, I believe in my family it is a cultural issue and judging by many responses to my question, for many others from a South-Asian background, it is the same.
Being brought up in a typical Pakistani household, as well as the good values that are instilled in us there are also a lot of things that I do not agree with, that we are burdened by.
You learn growing up not to share your opinion on particular issues, especially those which are taboo (periods — no! SEX — let’s not even go there!); you learn to pretend to be interested in things you are not really interested in; you are forced to be respectful to anyone who is older than you, despite whatever they may do or say to you; you are taught to always keep up appearances and to become ‘someone’ in a society where being ‘someone’ will just never be enough; you are told consistently that you cannot do this and you cannot do that but you must do this and you must do that… and so on, and so forth.
One person commented saying: “With family, you’re expected to be a certain way and because of that, there are certain things you can’t express or show, because to them that’s not how it’s supposed to be”.
These restrictions and requirements are so detrimental to us though — we are literally forced to become people that we simply are not amongst our families, because to be anything else is so unheard of that you just don’t know what would happen — but I’m guessing there would be many a battered and bruised ego.
Another person who took part in my online discussion even said, “If they knew the real me, they would probably disown me!” and although he said this in a satirical way, the sad reality is that this is the truth. In families where culture rules all, you will simply never be free to be yourself unless you make the conscious choice to break away and therefore risk losing them all.
Other people felt like the people in their family did not make an effort to get to know them — and I can relate to that feeling all too well. I have had so many conversations about surface-level exterior things: “Where are you working? What have you been up to? What are you wearing to so-and-so’s wedding?” etc. but nothing real and nothing deep — nothing I can really relate to.
So, what is it? Are we scared to know each other’s deepest thoughts and feelings? Are we afraid to ask questions about things which go beyond just the surface? Or is it just simply, that we don’t really care?
Some people told me online, that their family didn’t know the real them but their friends did — after all, friends are the family we choose for ourselves. But what I fail to understand is why our families are not our friends first? Or why do they not even try to be?
On children, Khalil Gibran beautifully says in The Prophet, which happens to be one of my favourite books:
“You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.”
To me, these words are just perfect. I believe wholeheartedly that if we were more open and accepting of one another — putting aside our own upbringings and completely dismissing the judgements of other people — and learned to value each other as the unique souls and entities that we are with the unique messages and thoughts that we bring to the world, then the world would be a much happier place full of much happier families.
So, do yourself a favour and take a moment to sit with a member of your family who is more like a stranger, and take a chance by scratching below the surface.
Get to know them — the real them.
See what they are passionate about; delve into their world of things they do because it lightens their soul; engage in discussions about things you were told never to talk about — and grow, together.
You might just find that the friends you have been searching for all along are sitting downstairs in your own front room.