Family can be a complicated and funny thing. Some families get a smooth run at this and despite the few niggles that might happen along the way, they love each other unconditionally. Other whānau have a much rougher road and go their separate ways for whatever reason. I have learnt that blood is not always thicker than water and that there are circumstances which warrant not going back to the place of hurt to keep one’s self emotionally safe.
Nuclear families, blended whānau, step mothers, step fathers, step children, exes, additional grandparents, nannies, koro's and a multitude of aunties, uncles and cousins who are either blood related or not. Our whānau look very different today than they might have done in the past.
Ours is not your typical family and there are some incredible hurts along the way that have not yet been healed. This is not what I would have wanted for myself, certainly not what I wanted for my children and definitely not how I would like it to continue for my moko.
So who is your family? Ko wai tō whānau?
There can be varying levels of acceptance and problems when you blend a whānau. I’ve had a go at blending a couple of different ones over the years, so I know a little bit about some the things that can potentially arise. So I am incredibly grateful for how my partner has embraced my daughters and for how they have also embraced and love him. My eldest had already left home by the time we got together and my youngest was in her mid-teens. Raising small step-children is challenging (yes I have done this too), but getting to know adult children of a new partner poses some pretty interesting dynamics.
The fact that he has totally taken us all on board as a package is something that I am really thankful for. That my girls have also accepted that he is someone who makes me happy and that that matters is massively appreciated and certainly doesn’t go unnoticed. I am grateful to these guys for helping me blend smoothly.
What I hadn’t anticipated was just how much that was going to extend to “our moko”. Every time I see them together, the look on his face when he sees his photo, that he asks how he is every few days if I haven’t given him an update, is a welcome surprise. I love that he loves him.
It has also helped me to stop and think about what is important and what being whānau is.
Knowing your whakapapa is part of whānau. As someone growing up not knowing my biological dad, finally meeting him in my 30’s, closed a very big identity gap. So, no matter what the hurts are, knowing biologically who you are is really important in developing and understanding your own identity. Learn who you are and where you came from so that you can share this with your own tamaiti, so they can learn who they are too. In my case finding that identity hasn't required ongoing relationships, just knowing and understanding.
Whānau relationships can and do form who we are and who we become. We all have that favourite aunty, family friend or cousin who we look up to as a role model, who guided us along the way, who we have fond memories of, who believed in us and helped us to be who we are today. Our tamariki need as many of these positive influences as possible. These relationships are important so wherever possible, maintain these, take the time to visit, acknowledge the good times and share the togetherness that comes from whanau events and get togethers.
As important as maintaining these relationships is, like all things with our pēpi, our tamariki and our rangitahi, SAFETY FIRST, physically, socially, emotionally and mentally. Put the barriers up and the brakes on if you have to! Putting your brakes on doesn’t mean everyone else has to, and that’s ok.
Based on these things, whanau doesn’t have to be just what we were born into. We can choose to add members to our “family” that give us the key ingredients we need to make us whole. Without some of my additions I know I wouldn’t be who I am today.
There will come a day when there are more mokopuna in this weirdly put together whānau. They may be biologically mine, they may not be, they may be some of the children I have semi-raised along the way. In this whānau, we LOVE.
ALL “our moko” deserve to receive and appreciate unconditional love and support from their whānau. There should be no “us and them”, just “our moko”. We’ve got this whānau. Biological, extended, or added by choice, we’ve got this!