We all yearn for acceptance and belonging.
The photo above was taken many years ago–back when my daughters would spend hours raking leaves in their Godmother’s backyard just so they could “crunch” them. Back when they had innocence. When they thought the world of me.
Now, they are teenagers and I’ve seemed to have lost some mojo. In fact, I’m sure they would cringe at my use of the word, “mojo.” I can just hear them say, “OK boomer!” (I’ve already argued with them that I am not old enough to be a boomer but that doesn’t seem to matter.)
My daughters complain I’m hard of hearing. They roll their eyes when I quote from research studies. My older one critiques my clothes, “No, mom. Really. No.” My younger one cuts me off, “You’re over-explaining, again Mom! I got it already!” They challenge my faulty logic and failing memory.
They got smart. I can’t keep up. They see my faults and flaws. I can’t hide or pretend.
Still, I know my daughters love me. With my husband, they know me and accept all of me. With these three humans, I don’t have to strive to be someone I’m not. For them, I just strive to be better.
Why Acceptance and Belonging Matters
I believe that when we feel accepted and when we know we belong, we gain a safe base from which we can venture out into spaces that are not so welcoming. On top of a secure foundation of acceptance and belonging, we can build the courage to eventually show more of our true selves in those new settings despite the unease of not fitting in.
Knowing we are accepted and belong in one environment can help us withstand or stand up to harsher environments. [I recognize that the discussion around “safe spaces” is quite complicated and loaded. I’m keeping things simple here.]
At the same time, the rapid pace of online “sharing” and growing concerns of privacy has made issues of identity and disclosure more challenging. All of us, not just our youth, struggle to know how much of ourselves to reveal. It is challenging to navigate when and how to be public and when and how to be private, both online and offline.
Years ago, at a workshop run by the Girls Leadership Institute, my girls and I were taught to imagine wearing a large overcoat designed to protect ourselves. In the general public, when we’re with unfamiliar people, we keep the coats on. But if we’re with someone we think is a friend, we may unbutton the top button and test the waters to see if it is safe to reveal more of ourselves. After a while, as we feel more comfortable, we unbutton more of the coat and eventually take off the coat. But there may also be times when someone breaks our trust, so we need to button up once again.
We Don’t Need to Be Perfect
The good news is that it doesn’t seem to matter where the source of acceptance and belonging comes from. In fact, I would argue it can’t come from a single person; that’s just too much to ask of a loved one. Instead, we receive different kinds of acceptance from different people. For example, my writing friends understand a side of me that my family doesn’t.
Thankfully, we also don’t need a lot. We just need enough.
Just as we need to feel accepted and that we belong, we also need to give these to others. True acceptance is what deepens our connection with others.
And, finally, we need to accept our imperfect selves.
I hope you can
- Feel comfortable in your own skin,
- Appreciate the acceptance from those you love,
- Sense belonging while in special places, and
- Inspire feelings of acceptance and belonging among your loved ones.
What might you try first?