Beloved and Belonging

We wondered how our first session with three - almost four - year old Grace and her year old sister Reese would go.

Ever since Grace was the age of Reese, she has, on a weekly basis, assumed the role of Princess for the Day.

She sits in Papa’s chair while Gramma serves her favourite breakfast. Then she can watch “one show” with Papa before the day expands, perhaps, to include a tea party with Gramma, inside a makeshift tent under the dining room table, reading books, a trip to the carousel at Butchart Gardens, swimming, visits to the museum, playground or some other destination. The day will also feature the perennial favourite, Papa’s famous pasta (Mac’n cheese) and eight chocolate covered berries.

Very rarely does Gramma say “no;” Papa almost never.

Princess for the Day, the centre of the known universe, away from a rambunctious  older brother, crawling little sister or puppy wanting on the stage. Just Grace.

She is well loved at home with lots of affection and attention; still, the time at Papa and Gramma’s is different.

So we wondered.

Would she feel displaced? Would she be resentful, even angry, either to the point of pummelling her little sister with pillows or resort to some passive aggressive behaviour with the betraying grandparents?

All told the first day was great. She was helpful with the baby, assuming the role of caring big sister. Still, it was Season 1, Episode 1 of the revamped series.

Since we have five children, in a blended family, we have witnessed the struggle to find and define place before. The technical details are easy - middle child, or the third oldest girl (though your father’s first born), the youngest girl or boy. The emotional and spiritual aspects of the numbers present the real challenge.

In the largest sense, the question is one of belonging. On one level, I believe all our children knew they “belonged” to our family but, on another level, I think they also wrestled with how they fit. Did a speciality define their place - she’s the dancer, the athlete, the swimmer, the lawyer in waiting? Was it a matter of public acclaim - how many goals this week in soccer, how many raves after the performance, how many friends? Was personality the key - extroverts, performers, team player, solo runners, quiet? What makes a person feel like they belong?

Abraham Maslow thought so highly of the need to belong that he placed it as one of the five human needs in his hierarchy of needs. Others focus more upon the motivational dimensions of the need to belong, arguing that “many of the human needs that have been documented, such as the needs for power, intimacy, approval, achievement and affiliation, are all driven by the need to belong.”  Do middle children try harder because they feel they have to do or be more to be recognized, to belong?

However, the need to belong is parsed there is little doubt that the pain caused by rejection “is so intense that it involves the same brain regions involved in the experience of physical pain.” Depression, suicide as well as many examples of behavioural, “acting out” problems reside here. Memories of school or peer group interactions carry, often disproportionate, weight.

And how does belonging relate to the sense of being beloved? Again, I like to believe that all our children know they are loved but, engaging Caleb’s posts, makes me realize that the relationship between being beloved and belonging is not as straightforward as I assumed. Apparently, one can know they are loved but also, at a very deep level, not feel as if they truly belong.

I wonder if the reverse is also true. At some level, you can belong to an organization, family, tribe and yet not feel wanted, much less loved.

As I read and edit Caleb’s posts, I am struck by how hard he is working to redefine his experience of giving and receiving love and of belonging.

He is initiating meaningful conversations about who he is, what he wants and values. He is working to change his beliefs about the world and love, valuing the people who love him and examining his needs and intentions. (see The Tiny Buddha) And he greatly values those times and situations where he knows his presence makes a positive difference in the lives of others.

This is not the entire story, but it helps me appreciate the scope of the task to feel both loved and that you belong.

I admire his desire for an abundant life, a life well lived. It has made me consider how we might help Reese and Grace claim a sense of being beloved and that they belong.

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