Growing up I did not have many ideas or opinions on what community was. I knew that the people who went to the First Baptist Church that I took myself to as a child seemed to be the ideal version of what families were. They had money. They had moms & dads who worked all week. They ate dinner together. They had family time on the weekends.
My schedule was the same because my mother was their babysitter. Once that season of my mom’s life was over, so was the season in which I shared that same schedule.
Poverty left little time for me to think about what community and family meant. We were all busy surviving. In that survival are clear memories of relationships. The times that I spent with my cousins who all lived on the same street I lived on. I lived with my mom on a street where three of my aunts and my grandmother all lived. My days were filled with coffee at my Godmother’s, rides to the store to get fountain sodas when one of my other Tias went to buy cigarettes and then dinner at whoever’s house everyone decided on.
When I had my first child at the age of 16, I learned how to take care of him as a family group project with my other cousins who had babies at the same time. If one of our babies had a dirty diaper, then whoever’s child it was had the misfortune of changing all the babies.
That is how it worked in my family. We all lived together, we fought all the time, there was always drama and yet we all functioned as what I now know as a community.
It is that level of “all hands-on deck” type family philosophy that I have with my own adult children now. But it took the suicide of my oldest son to really sit down and figure that out. Until then we were all just doing whatever had to be done next to survive. There was no plan, no philosophy, no nothing but dealing with whatever crisis came next.
But after Anthony’s suicide I became more intentional about everything and that included how my family would function. I knew right away that I wanted my family to all be close the way that my mom and her sisters were when I was a teenager. I knew that I wanted all my grandkids to be a daily part of each other’s lives the way that me and my cousins had been in those same teen years.
I also knew that we all needed our own space, which I carved out for my children and grandchildren. We built our own little corner of the world. We eat dinner together most evenings and we live together. We each have our own life but also, we have a family life.
I think that what we have is good, but it is not the norm in modern society. Looking at Covid19 discussions and the impact on parents in nuclear families, it’s pretty easy to see that family infrastructure is not built with the benefits of families in mind. It does not seem to be family-centered. It’s more “how-can-I-make-a-living-to-support-this-family-by-paying-the-bills”-centered. I would call it capitalism, but I do not want to get tangled up with -isms because I do not want to talk about theory, I want to talk about reality.
I lived with my mom on a street where three of my aunts and my grandmother all lived. My days were filled with coffee at my Godmother’s, rides to the store to get fountain sodas when one of my other Tias went to buy cigarettes and then dinner at whoever’s house everyone decided on.
The reality is that we do not live in a society that centers the rights and needs of families but instead we center our lives on the wants and profits of employers. “Working” is the norm. In order to work you must have childcare. That means parents go to work, kids go to school and then in the evening when everyone is tired, they try to maybe have dinner together. But even in the evening there is stress. The stress to make dinner, to decompress from the day and then there is homework.
We have accepted this as the norm for our society and then wonder why we are all tired and stressed and why we do not know our kids at all.
Well, we spend most of our time with other humans who are not our family and the minority of our time with our spouse and children. We work all hours of the day and when we are not at work, we “relax” by scrolling through news feeds full of stories telling us how horrible everything in the world is. We are not sleeping or eating well and if we do run into some “self-help” guide the mantra is that we need more “me time”.
The reality is that we do not live in a society that centers the rights and needs of families but instead we center our lives on the wants and profits of employers.
When my son died it blew up all of these ideas for me. I no longer cared to get a job that was 40 hours a week, Monday thru Friday. I no longer expected my living kids to leave once they graduated from high school so I could “begin my life” and I stopped thinking that I recharged by copious amounts of “me time”. I do have plenty of time alone, which is needed for my sanity, but it is in the midst of my time with each of my kids, each of my grands, all of them at once or time in the backyard with my dogs.
It is not this block of time that is about me.
It is time I spend that is just me and God so that I can get to know Him and also get to know myself. This is not some hippy mumbo jumbo; it is about how God made us. He made us to be in a community called a family. In fact, when God became Man, He was born into a family. When Jesus was preaching about the Kingdom of God and healing people, He would go off alone at times to pray. All these things were not for His own benefit. He is God. They were all for our benefit to know that, as humans, we need all these things. We need our family, friends and time alone with God.
I am hopeful that this global pandemic will lead us all to reimagine what we want for our lives moving forward and that maybe it will help us be more intentional about our lives, our families and our time with God. In that, maybe we can find our way back to one another.
Leticia Ochoa Adams writes from Texas, on life, death, grief, suicide, faith, motherhood, doubts and whatever (else) happens to be on her mind.
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