Belonging is a sense of fitting in, being a part of something as you are. As human beings created to exist in clans, we crave a sense of belongingness. We may gain this sense from a peer group, co-workers, an athletic team or club, our religious affiliation or our family. What we know is that it doesn’t matter where we develop this feeling, but that our mental health is stronger when we have a stronger experience of it.
Almost all of the parents I’ve ever spoken to want their child to have a feeling of belonging, particularly within their own home. A 2020 study of college students showed that children who felt a stronger sense of belonging experienced less anxiety, depression, hopelessness, loneliness, social anxiety and suicidal thoughts. Yet in our raising, we are frequently given cues about our need to fit in and pass these on to our own children.
Fitting in is the opposite of belonging. When we make an effort to fit in, we are changing ourselves in some way to “belong” to the group. But in changing ourselves, it’s not us who is belonging, it’s a version of ourself that isn’t in integrity with our true beingness. So in fact, our true self does not belong or express its unique contributions. Without being our true selves, we aren’t able to fully connect to others or be valued for who we really are. And that is not belonging.
Think about how this may present itself within the family. We try to influence our children to cut their hair a certain way, wear particular clothes or be more feminine/masculine to make us comfortable. Without realizing it, we are communicating a desire for our child to be different than they are, therefore never allowing them to fully belong to the family unit.
I remember my son buying himself a spiked collar and how I would make comments about it because I was afraid of what other people would think. I was stifling his creative self to make myself comfortable. But in doing so, I was saying, “you belong when I am comfortable with your self expression.” And this is not how I want to be within our family. I want to fully embrace my children and have a welcoming space where they are free to express their beingness and belong. In order to do so, I need to do the work to identify my own discomfort and work through that rather than require my child be someone different in order to belong.
Like all emotions, a sense of belonging comes from our thoughts about our experiences. So the true way to experiencing belongingness is through our thoughts. And by modeling these thoughts, we are able to teach our children how to experience it as well.
First, we need to be our true selves, not lie to others by being who or what they want to be. When we are people pleasing we are never able to belong. This requires us to have self awareness of who we are and the unconditional love of ourselves necessary to share our authentic self.
Second, we must be willing to be uncomfortable. We have to be willing to allow ourselves to hold their own opinions of us and not make them mean anything negative about ourselves.
Next we must develop the awareness to know where it is we want to belong and with whom. Then we must choose our thoughts about this relationship that lead to the feeling of belonging. For you that might be:
– This is a place I belong.
– I have a great connection with ____.
– I am loved and safe in this space.
– I am 100% lovable and capable.
– I am welcome in this space.
– Who I am is perfect here.
We can teach these same thoughts to our children and model them both in our lives and in using our words with our children. How we would reinforce these thoughts is by saying and showing:
– You belong here.
– You have a great connection with ____.
– You are loved and safe in this space
– You are 100% lovable and capable.
– You are welcome in this space.
-Who you are is perfect here.
Then we model it by accepting our children’s choices whether that be a haircut, a spiked collar, presentation as masculine or feminine, etc. We don’t ask that they please us in order to be a part of the family unit at other family events or hide who they are for the sake of our comfort.
True belongingness begins with us.