If you’re like most people, you didn’t grow up with a totally nurturing, accepting, empowering family. Luckily, you can build your own dream family, starting right now. You can fill your new family with people who will give you exactly what you most need.
My friend Marilyn told me about a family-building exercise she performed years ago that was very helpful to her. She came from a family that squashed her sense of joy and self-esteem. As an adult, she had learned that she could create her own family through her friends. In addition, this exercise advised putting together an imaginary group of people she’d like to have in our family.
“That part of the exercise was fun for me,” Marilyn told me. “The second part was harder. I had to imagine what those new family members admired about me!”
Difficult though it was for her, the exercise was transformative for Marilyn, giving her a new way of seeing herself. Here’s who she chose and what she imagined them telling her about herself:
1. Morgaine le Fay (King Arthur’s half-sister and a powerful healer in the Arthurian legend): “It’s difficult having a druid soul in a Christian world, isn’t it? I’m pleased that you’re seeking your true essence even though it may not be in step with the society around you. You have the makings of a priestess; you’re interested in healing, both psychic and physical, in natural ways, and have an abiding respect for the earth. Your reawakened interest in flowers and gardening will keep you grounded and centered, as will your love of cooking.”
2. Calamity Jane (an adventurous woman in the Old West who wore men’s clothing, performed trick shooting in the Wild West show, nursed victims of smallpox, and was a chronic alcoholic): “What I admire about you is that you were able to quit drinking and change your life as a result. I never managed it for myself so I appreciate the difficulty of the feat. Your independence and resourcefulness are just beginning to bloom. You are forging ahead, taking risks in a more civilized, socialized way than I did, but it’s pioneering nonetheless. I sure can identify with your shyness among strangers. It’s OK.”
3. Eleanor Roosevelt (First Lady of the U.S., who supported the New Deal policies of her husband, Franklin Roosevelt, and was an advocate for civil rights): “We’ve both suffered from being adult children of alcoholics and from not being what our partners needed from us. Your political, civic, social consciousness is strong. You’ve used your caring for the disenfranchised to protest inequality and work with your friends in feminism. Continue to use your caring for the betterment of the world. Learn from me to overcome stage fright and become more vocal in your involvement.”
4. Lassie (a fictional collie in the book Lassie Come Home and in a number of movies based on the book): “You have the makings of a good dog. You’re fiercely loyal to your friends. You’re intelligent enough to follow the good rules and to ignore or disobey the bad ones. You watch over your friends and try to protect them from harm. You speak up when someone threatens those you love. You dislike people who try to dominate others. Your instincts in such areas are good. You like to go for walks – and you always find your way back home.”
Marilyn still has the paper on which she created this family. She says she would probably pick the same people today with a couple of additions. She would add Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron, whose spiritual philosophy is closest to hers, and cellist Yo-Yo Ma for his creation of beautiful music, his graciousness toward his fellow musicians, his curiosity, and his humility. (And, she says, she needs at least one man in her family!)
Who would you like to have in your ideal family? Choose anyone – living or dead, someone real or a character from a book, TV, or the movies – whose qualities you appreciate and would like to emulate. For each one, write down a message from them to you. Have each one tell you what they value about you and why they’re glad to be in your family.
Keep your new family members in your mind to turn to when you want advice or comfort. You can continue to add people throughout your life, making your family as big as you want.
Marilyn is one of over 30 people who tell their stories in my new book WAKING UP HAPPY: A HANDBOOK OF CHANGE WITH MEMOIRS OF RECOVERY AND HOPE (WakingUpHappyBook.com). As each storyteller learns lessons in their life, I add exercises – like this one from Marilyn’s chapter – that you can do yourself to create those same changes in your own life. Give this exercise a try, and see if it provides new perspectives for you. Share your discoveries, ideas, and insights at my website WakingUpHappyBook.com.
I look forward to hearing all about your new family!
ABOUT JILL MUEHRCKE
Juliana (Jill) Muehrcke is the award-winning author of many books and articles. Founder and editor of the international magazine Nonprofit World (snpo.org), she has studied at the University of Colorado and the University of Michigan and has a BA degree, specializing in English and psychology, from the University of Washington. Jill is listed in Who’s Who (MarquisWhoswho.com). In her spare time, she enjoys teaching yoga and eating ethnic food. For many years, in several cities, including Seattle, Honolulu, and Madison, she has written restaurant reviews.
Her latest book is Waking Up Happy: A Handbook of Change with Memoirs of Recovery and Hope.
You can visit her website at www.WakingUpHappyBook.com.
Listen to Jill on the Joy Cardin Show at http://wpr.org/search/ideas_