Our home is where the greater story of our lives, including our secrets, is written
Take a look at your home: those walls are filled with stories. Memories are embedded within the floors. Laughter can be heard in the doorways. And tears leave their mark at the entrance. Our homes are an extension of who we are.
Most of us, if we’re lucky, grow up in loving families. But it is a rare family that doesn’t have a secret. Family secrets can be shared by the whole family, by some family members or kept by an individual member. The secret can relate to issues such as homosexuality, infidelity, mental illness, crime, abuse, substance abuse and more.
Some of our buried secrets lose their power over the years, but others leave a damaging legacy. It isn’t easy to keep secrets hidden, and secrets in families have great potency because, like buried radioactive material, they can leak and spread poison.
Some families come to terms with their problems, but in others, avoidance and dishonesty are used to protect the myth of the “acceptable” family, which means anyone in trouble is left to cope alone. This can have damaging consequences.
For example, it’s usually quite natural to talk about whether a child looks like their mother or their father. If there are doubts about parentage, though, these are dangerous conversations to be avoided. Children pick up on their parents’ discomfort even when nothing has been said. The secret, which might originally have been told to protect the marriage, can have serious consequences. Fathers may feel they have lost the child they knew, and children can feel profoundly betrayed, leaving them with a damaged sense of identity and deep sense of loss.
In families that refuse to accept homosexuality or mixed marriages, children who don’t conform may feel they have to conceal their private lives.
Take a walk through your neighbourhood and look at the houses. They may have striking architecture or pretty gardens, but remember that behind the façade each one of those houses has a story to tell.
We are the same: we may look good and happy on the outside, but we all sometimes despair and cry and struggle with the same things. Some families are dealing with drug and alcohol abuse, some with gender-based violence, some are not coping well with a loved one’s disabling condition, some may be faced with financial challenges… What about that child who is bullied daily at school? The mother with a cheating spouse? A child-headed household? There is always someone worse or better off than you. Let’s remember that we are all part of the same humanity and let’s embrace life to the fullest.
Emilie Olifant is a disability activist, entrepreneur and motivational speaker. She is the director of the Emilie Olifant Foundation, an organisation that strives to address socio-economic issues experienced by people with disabilities. email: firstname.lastname@example.org