lifestyle

I don’t care what people say – family isn’t everything


There are many sayings that I have a problem with – ‘Blood is thicker than water’, ‘family is all that matters’ – and they boil down to the same thing; family is king. 

That’s great if your family reflects who you are, but what if they don’t? The ‘family is everything’ mantra turns us onto an ill-fated path that leads to the destruction of your individuality.

From depictions of family loyalty above all else in soaps such as Eastenders to the often quoted wisdom of elders ‘Your family will always be there for you’, family has been held-up in society like it is the Holy Grail. To criticise family feels blasphemous but ever since I was a kid, I’ve never seen myself in my family. 

I grew-up with an older brother and sister. There was always a lot of family gatherings and parties. As much as I enjoyed the closeness of my extended family, it had its downsides.

Uncles and aunts felt they could have a say in how I went about my life. They would comment if I was having a drink at a party, even though I had just turned 18! Or have a say in my studies: ‘What can you do with a philosophy degree?’ 

It’s not like I don’t like them, it’s just that I see life very differently to them. In short, we speak a different language. 

Just writing down these words sounds treacherous, scathing and taboo. But what is it about families that keeps us from telling the truth? When we’re children, we’re told it’s OK not to fit in, but somehow this idea gets lost when it comes to one’s own family.

I come from a religious – Christian – family and patriarchal culture which many in my family adhere to. Women are submissive, don’t openly drink, are unchallenging and painfully modest. I must add that this behaviour is my parents’ generation and isn’t really reflected in mine. But some uncles and aunts have expected me to stick to their ideals.

Whereas I’ve never been dogmatic in my faith, it’s not my religion that I have a problem with but my culture. I’m far too questioning to accept it as a given.

I’m not sure what feminism means these days; I don’t want to align myself with someone just because they’re the same sex as me, I don’t like to pigeonhole myself, though I’m sure I would be considered a feminist.

As a child I drove my parents insane with questions: why would a family friend, who doesn’t know my cousin, think they were the best person to look for a husband for her?

Thankfully, my parents were liberal – they understood my thought process and respected it – and knew I wouldn’t agree so arranged marriage never came up for me. Many cousins of mine did – and that’s fine – but what’s right for them isn’t right for me.

At 18 I moved away to study philosophy at university. My family expected me to have a university education – an aspect of my upbringing that I am thankful for. My father thought education, for women especially, was crucial. An educated woman wouldn’t have to rely on anyone to look after her.

When I came back home after graduation, I challenged my mother’s belief in God; the way my culture carried on such damaging practices such as giving dowry at wedding. I had great intellectual conversations with my father about it, and he mostly agreed with my ideas.

While I was accepting of my extended family’s way of life, I found that they were not so readily accepting of mine.

It takes different personalities to make the world interesting. We need to read and listen to a plethora of voices before we can find our own – not just the voice of the family we’re born into. Belonging to a family should not be an act of enslavement.

My family do not define me, I am an individual – my identity does not come from a collective (Picture: Kiran Sidhu)

Even though I did get married when I was 29, marriage was never something that was so important to me but until that point family would always ask when I was going to ‘settle down’.

My extended family’s love turned out to be conditional – a love based on my doing something or being someone that I was not. 

Aunts would ask my mum why I didn’t dress more conservatively or be less challenging in my beliefs.

I was open to different ways of thinking and being – I was too radical for them. I turned outwards, rather than inwards (to my family) for personal growth.

In 2019 I spent a month on my own in New York City. In my 20s, I always wanted to be a writer in NYC, so in my 40s, with the finance to do it – I did. They disapproved of me being alone in a strange city.

An aunt tried to convince me to let her visit stating, ‘you’ll be lonely’. They couldn’t understand that I craved the solitude in an exciting place. I did not want to have her visit me reciting the same old narrative.

My family do not define me, I am an individual – my identity does not come from a collective. I think that’s the biggest difference between me and my family. My aunt just couldn’t understand that I could be content alone.

Whereas my husband totally understood it and didn’t have a problem. I was the woman he married; confident, secure and adventurous.

I don’t need my family following me when I explore the world and my place in it. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy seeing them, but they don’t need to hold my hand. Maybe they want the best for me, but it’s their best for me, something held in the scope of their own vision. 

At times they still comment on me drinking or not dressing modestly – I ignore them. I have even cut some of my family off, as their obtuseness gets in the way of having a healthy relationship. 

Of course, I have family members that I do hold some camaraderie with such as my cousins. We share many values but don’t always hold the same views, but they don’t judge, and that’s what matters. 

There are people in my family that have meant everything, my mother and a well-loved aunt, for example – but I have about 100 extended family members.

It is said that life is made up of a collection of moments, and so to me it stands to reason that life should be made up of individuals who accept our foibles.

I have always lived on my own terms, my mother’s untimely death at just 62 reinforced the importance of that.

I always felt like a failure when I was growing-up with people saying ‘family is everything’ because I always saw the world differently to mine. If I took that phrase literally, that family was the be all and end all of everything, it would’ve hindered my personal growth. I wouldn’t have led the adventurous and experimental life that I do.

I’ve sought the company of people who are very different from me; stared into the abyss and written about it, no matter how painful. I’ve challenged ideals and ideas that my culture practised. 

Only now, as an adult, I feel a sense of liberation by acknowledging that family is not always everything. Society’s unquestioning belief in this mantra is destructive. At its heart it’s nothing more than an idealism. With so many people coming from dysfunctional families, to continually recite the motto is to wilfully view the world through rose-tinted glasses. 

If you’re not confident or curious, the narrative can pave your life for you – without you even realising. You don’t live your own life, but the life others have created for you. 

It’s important not to be stuck in the family narrative of how one should be (Picture: Kiran Sidhu (Right) with her husband (Centre) and her cousin (Left))

I live with my husband who is an artist and understands things like solitariness, uniqueness and the importance of having your own voice. It’s too precious to give away.

Much is said about the hypothetical question of what we would tell our younger selves. Mine is pretty clear: listen to a different beat of the drum and don’t worry about it! I used to feel guilty that I felt I needed to go out in the world to find myself, as if saying my family wasn’t enough. But as an adult I understand that it’s not selfish – but essential. 

To allow yourself the freedom to listen to your own heart is everything. I have found homes in so many different people and places that I feel understood from friendships, books, and places like NYC, Chicago, Thailand and Paris.

It’s important not to be stuck in the family narrative of how one should be. The world needs to see you unadulterated and we all need to find our own idiosyncrasies, otherwise, what has your life been about?

I have learnt that I’m far more independent than my family would have had me believe.

I don’t want my extended family to dictate and write my life story. No one’s going to hold that pen, but me.



The Truth Is…

Metro.co.uk’s weekly The Truth Is… series seeks to explore anything and everything when it comes to life’s unspoken truths and long-held secrets. Contributors will challenge popular misconceptions on a topic close to their hearts, confess to a deeply personal secret, or reveal their wisdom from experience – good and bad – when it comes to romance or family relationships.

If you would like your share your truth with our readers, email angela.pearson@metro.co.uk.


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