Children Need to Feel Connected to Family Relatives – Holiday Tips from a Domestic Violence and Child Abuse Survivor
December 20, 2014
According to research published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, having a close circle of relatives is crucial for children’s psychological wellbeing.
Children need to feel that they are connected to others and they are not alone. Studies show that children who know more about their family connections prove to be more resilient, meaning they can better moderate the effects of stress. They know they belong to something bigger than themselves. As chapters are added to their family’s life, they grow in strength as they share their “family narrative” through experiences and stories.
I know first hand the devastating effects that living in a household wracked with child abuse and domestic violence can cause for children, especially around the holidays. When my dad, Dick North, died, and my mother–who had 8 children–remarried Frank Beardsley, who had 10 (we were famous globally for the size of our combined family), we North children were virtually cut off from our father’s extended family. I was 6 years old. Connections with our North grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, were forbidden by Frank Beardsley, (he was insanely jealous of anyone “North”) a very abusive and controlling man. I didn’t even know any of my North cousins until I was a grown man.
Grandparents and other relatives play a key role in a child’s life. Relatives can provide a net of support that can help children weather the storms of life, and an excellent opportunity to grow in many directions. They also reflect back to us something about ourselves.
Here is an excerpt from my new book True North – The Shocking Truth about “Yours, Mine and Ours” (Chapter 18 – Visiting the Southwestern Norths)
Grandpa and Grandma North loved their son, and it broke their hearts when he died. In almost every family there is a golden child, and Dick North was theirs. They wanted to visit his children more often, but there was always the complication of Frank Beardsley to deal with. He resented what they were to us…
Years later, in 1976 during a college vacation, I decided to pay a surprise visit to Grandpa. When I went up to the door, he carefully stepped down from the camper and, straightening up, looked me up and down. A tear rolled down his cheek, as he wrapped his arms around me and said, “Hello, boy. It’s mighty fine to see you.”
We hugged for a long moment. He stepped back and held me by the shoulders to get a better look at me. “You’re a man now, Tommy. Gosh, it’s good to see you!” he smiled.
Recently, I attended a North family reunion in northern Utah. I am grateful to my Aunt Weldonna, my dad’s sister, who is 69 years young, who organized this get together, and for arranging a heartwarming and connecting experience for my daughter Elyse and me with our many relatives. The last of her generation, my Aunt “Donni” as she prefers to be called, had invited all the descendants of Elliot North, my grandfather. This simple man with a heart of gold had 5 children, 19 grandchildren, 36 great-grandchildren and so on.
During the evening campfire session I shared a particular story from my book about Grandpa working as a long-haul truck driver. He had picked up a hitchhiker and given him a ride from St. Louis to Los Angeles. When Grandpa dropped the hitchhiker off, he gave him some money and wished him well. The young man asked for Grandpa’s contact information so he could return the money when he got back on his feet, and my granddad said, “No need, son; just do the same for someone else someday”. That’s the kind of man he was! Losing my connection with this wonderful man was very sad.
The emotions that ran through my heart as I listened to and spoke with these “lost North” relatives of mine were intense. I felt a desire for connection that had been long lost, and a long- time coming. Much to my delight, I learned that my most of my cousins shared the depth of feeling that I brought to the reunion and were as glad to see me as I was to see them. I can tell you that I had tears in my eyes more than once as I reveled in the discussions we had and felt part of a family that I had been away from me for too long. My concerns of perhaps not being accepted were put to rest, and the laughter we shared was a joy.
I also learned that my experience as I related it in my book about the trauma the North children experienced was appreciated by everyone who had read it or was reading it at the time. There were many questions to answer about the difficulty of living in the Beardsley household and a lot of puzzled looks as my cousins attempted to figure out what the heck my now-deceased mother could have been thinking when she took her children into Frank Beardsley’s domain. I explained it to them, and somehow, it just didn’t seem to make sense.
The weekend went by way too fast and we made all the customary promises to stay in touch that people do when they share heartfelt moments. I have already been in contact with some of my new-found relatives, and plan to stay in touch as time passes. I am grateful for the new connections I have made with my North family and am glad to no longer be “The Lost Norths.”
I hope you will take the opportunity to create loving, lasting memories for your family and children this holiday season. Here are some tips to help: