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When we think of our homes, I think most of us picture a cozy place where we feel safe and loved. Home evokes images of family gatherings, the soft glow of Norman Rockwell’s fireplace, and peaceful sanctuaries that provide a respite from the tumult and noise of the world.
From the time I left for college to live in the temporary housing of dorm life, I felt homeless like I was without a safe place to land. As part of their divorce, my parents sold the house I grew up in and in dissolving their shared life, they also dissolved mine. The tether to my childhood home and to all I had known of my nuclear family had disintegrated into nothingness.
I was generously given a room in each of my stepparents’ homes, where my own parents each now lived, but these homes did not feel like my homes and despite being welcomed into these new families, I felt like a guest, a visitor, an interloper.
For eight years, between 1986 and 1994, I traveled so often between these houses, my dorm rooms and temporary student apartments that I seemed to live in my car more than anywhere else. I craved a home – a peaceful place where I belonged and could rest my head and my heart.
This quest for a home of my own motivated more of my decisions as a young adult than I knew at the time. My parents were focused on rebuilding their lives in their new homes in their second marriages and I felt alone and adrift, and with a hole in my heart and no safe place to rest my head, I set out on an exhausting path to try to fill my heart.
One boyfriend introduced me to his parents and instantly I fell in love with them. They were warm, emotionally effusive and lovely. They welcomed me into their home and within a few hours of meeting them I was calling them Mom and Dad. In some ways, I found more love and solace in their family, at that time, than with my own. Their home became an oasis of peace for me during a turbulent time in my life. I was grateful. I knew that leaving him meant that I also had to leave his family and would no longer be welcome in their home. When we eventually broke up, which was inevitable, I grieved the loss of his parents and their home much more than I did the loss of him.
This would happen again with several other men I dated in the next few years. I’d fall in love with their welcoming parents and their cozy homes that provided me with a sense of love and belonging without the emotional encumberments and disappointments of my family of origin and, because of this, I stayed longer in these ill-fated relationships than I should have.
When I met my ex-husband’s parents, this same scenario played out. I became extremely close with them as I was welcomed with open arms into their family and spent countless times in their home creating memories and feeling loved. When he and I moved in together in 1994, the year before our wedding, for the first time in slightly more than eight years I had a home of my own.
We moved our belongings into this bright and clean one-bedroom garden apartment, and slowly added new pieces of furniture, art, collectibles, and books as we decorated it to suit our taste and desires. We had created a peaceful oasis, a place where we would always be welcome because it was ours. This was what I was waiting for – a home of my own.
When our relationship hit some rocky roads and we saw trouble on the horizon, I ignored far more than I should have, accepted so much less than I deserved, and suffered through our complete emotional disconnect, choosing to sweep it all under the rug because that rug covered the floor in my own home.
If I chose to deal with our issues, or end the relationship, I’d have to move that rug, give up my own home and go back to my previous nomadic lifestyle split between the homes of others’. This was not a choice I was conscious of, nor was it something I was prepared to do.
We married a year later, and thinking that real estate would be the solution to our problems, we eventually bought our own home, which gave me the most permanent home I had in more than a decade and certainly more control over the goings-on in that home than I ever had before.
I continued to sweep our marital problems under that same rug that now covered the floor of a my very own living room.
Throughout our journey as a couple, we would try to heal our wounds with real estate – with larger and more satisfying homes. Real estate cannot fix marriages any more than new cars or new babies can; our problems persisted.
About eleven years into this turbulent marriage, I began to see that I had the power to create a home on my own and our marriage ending didn’t mean that I would be homeless. I had a good career and enough money to support myself and with some hard work, I created a home for myself and my children on my terms – one in which peacefulness, fun and love would be the supporting pillars. And nothing would be swept under the rug.
You can be your own home no matter where you are by holding true to your values and boundaries, by working hard to surround yourself with peace and by never settling for less than you deserve. Home is more than where you hang your hat, it is where you fill your heart with love and belonging and hopefully, where you rest your head on your favorite pillow.
As I wrote in my 2015 article, Saying Goodbye to Our Childhood Home, “our homes hold a special place in our hearts and minds. Never underestimate the power of place in our lives. Let’s be grateful for the blessings of safety, sanctuary, family and love. May they forever warm our bodies and hearts.”
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