The myth of 'broken' families | Nina Farr | TEDxTotnes



when my son was 17 months old I became a single parent in a breathtakingly fast series of events my life unraveled in front of my eyes when the relationship between his father and I ended I lost my home I left my job I moved to a new County my toddler son and I went from living in the flat where he'd been born back to the home that I had grown up in hundreds of miles from his father I was also pregnant with my second son in those early days of chaos and change I had no idea if we were going to be all right or what I should do as the domino effect of ending my relationship touched every aspect of life with my boys my greatest challenge was holding on to how I viewed myself I had to decide what was this going to mean to me to take off the mantle of wife and in so doing set down a professional identity to walk away from a mortgage and to pick up in their place single mother benefits claimant unemployed and to battle for 11 months for the rights to be rented a home in my own name against the prejudice these new titles inspired it is no small thing when your circumstances change so much to hold on to who you believe you are I found that I had stepped out of a social story of success and into one the wreaked of failure but the most painful thing was giving birth to my second very much wanted very loved child in what our culture describes as a broken family in those two words broken family there existed the power to break me I had not understood until that point that words can be a weapon and labels can change everything about who you think you are there is an overwhelming narrative of mistrust aggression and victimhood in our social stories our popular culture is built on an economy of self-loathing and fear we infuse words like broken family with guilt and shame and I now understand that these are not just ways of describing situations for many people they are categories by which we segregate others into an order of Worth and I'm here today to talk on behalf of all the families like mine who deserves more who are not broken and shouldn't have to experience that kind of discomfort when they're already experiencing a painful change I have come to understand that we are not defined by the relationships we leave all those that end maybe not with our agreement or choice but we are defined by the relationships that remain the relationships we have with our family our friends with our children and with ourselves I am the only person I will wake up with every day for the rest of my life and I must like myself love myself respect myself I cannot afford to treat myself like I'm broken and honestly I do not believe I am because it is in loving self-acceptance that I've been able to find the courage to take full responsibility for my family as flawed or is perfect or wherever in between I might feel it is and it is in that responsibility that I found my authority as a parent and I've discovered a kind of self-leadership the ability to do what i think is right regardless of whether anyone is watching me or not I guess what my grandmother would call being a person of character but it does not surprise me that when we talk about parents and call them broken and then demand that they act as if they're whole when we heap pressure upon families like mine to conform and succeed in a world that is frankly unkind to them it does not surprise me that many forget when the world outside their front door is not watching their children are it is in the intensely personal and private spheres of our own homes around our dining tables and in our living rooms here we witness our parents character we experience their leadership of our families and the example that we absorb as children is what walks right out of those doors into their schools communities and future relationships it is this example of leadership and character that will help form the first fully fledged expression of our adult selves bad things happen all the time they happen to people like you they happen to people that you know and they happen to people like me maybe it will be an illness or a financial crisis or a bereavement maybe you too will experience family breakdown I hope one day you won't find yourself on a stage talking about rebuilding your life from rock-bottom but it is definite that each of us will have to one day walk through our own dark night of the soul and some of us will have to keep walking while we hold the hands of our children and we strive to keep them safe when I began my alone parenting journey I made a decision to begin with the end in mind I may have been holding two baby boys but what I saw were future men men that I was trusted to send out into the world men who would act on the lessons that they learned in my lab and I knew what I wanted them to know if you are a parent or if you know or love or live with or work with or support children in any way I'd like to invite you now to take a moment close your eyes if you wish but imagine those children who will they be in ten years in 15 years perhaps 20 years from now will they be kind will they be brave will your children respect themselves and other people what kind of relationships will they forge in the world what will your children have learned from walking by your side and who did you have to be to help them get there if you visualize adults who learn to love and trust and have positive relationships then know that they learned that from their loving connection to you security for a child is not a bank balance it's not a house it's not a mortgage is definitely not a social status security for a child lies in loving connection to an adult that cares for them security for a child means knowing that when all else disappears love lives on and keeps them safe if you imagined children who grew into adults who were respectful men and women with dignity who preserve the dignity of others know that they learned that because you taught them to be curious and not judgmental about pain if one day you have to pick up a version of your life that you didn't expect to be living in and it's like me you find that hard stay curious about what you're feeling ask yourself questions what don't you know that you should learn to make this easier if you're afraid ask what monsters are living in the dark of your imagination pick up a light and shine it on them furthermore when you meet other people other people whose lives have pain and challenge and difficulty you can't begin to imagine please show your children what compassion looks like respectful adults are children who learned how to meet difference with interest not fear if you imagined children who went into their life with purpose who found meaning and did constructive things know that they found that meaning because of the stories you chose to tell them children will find meaning in the things that we tell them are meaningful in my house we find meaning in going on adventures in kindness in having fun don't rely on the social stories around you to teach your children what matters if you imagined children who would become changemakers who would go and make a difference in the world know that it is right to have high aspirations and bold dreams for the magical people in your life they're filled with infinite potential and they're wonderful beings but also know that you are filled with all the potential and the possibility that you see in your children you are just as bold and as brave and as creative as they could ever be and nothing is going to show them how to adventure into the world with unshakable self belief more than following the courageous footsteps of the loving adults they live with today my vision for my children is that they will know all of these things so my mission for myself is to live the life that will show them how we cannot always change the world outside our front door and Lord knows there are days when that place feels overwhelmingly bleak but inside your front door in your home around your half in your heart you can set a revolution in motion when we become the people that we are hoping to raise we'll be living the society we hope to create my invitation to you is that if your family is like mine or different whatever it's like be brave you have a right to be here and you have a right to write your own story give it the meaning that speaks to your heart and be proud thank you [Applause]

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