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MONIQUE SLIEDRECHT: Family likeness and differences all add to the human tapestry

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Northern Drift by Monique Sliedrecht

The photo of Monique and her family in Canada.
The photo of Monique and her family in Canada.

I’ve just come back from Canada and I am basking in the glow of being with some of my family after a gap of more than two years.

Coming home to the far north of Scotland has reminded me of the very rich heritage of this culture.

Caithness is an extraordinary part of the world. There is a strong feeling of rootedness and connection here. Families choose to live a few miles away or even next door to each other and I have seen the love and loyalty of many families around me over the years.

I come from a family that has been split between Ontario, British Columbia, Holland, Uganda, America and Scotland. This can be very enriching in a number of ways but there’s no doubt that living in the same place has many advantages.

Even in Caithness, throughout the pandemic and the lockdowns, we’ve all experienced something of separation and isolation when it comes to family and friends. Social media, Skype and Zoom are clearly no substitute for greeting each other in person, for hugs and hospitality.

The power of reunion and visiting family in person has such great value.

While in Ontario, I celebrated my birthday. The photo above, taken by my father, portrays renewed physical connection and presence with family. The youngest in the photo is my niece, Abigail, who was born near the start of the pandemic. It was very touching to finally meet my new little relative in person.

In the photo, you can see that we are all doing our own thing: I am reading a birthday card from my sister, the eldest girl is pointing at something while her younger sister looks on, and the baby is only interested in finding her way into the gift bag.

There is a great sense of togetherness, but also of otherness in this picture. One thing I notice with my nieces, even at this young age, is how very different they all are. I love seeing that, and I am beginning to learn more about each individual.

What makes family work is accepting the differences in each other, but it is one of the biggest challenges. To accept without trying to change.

Families, like societies, can suffer from deep divisions. Finding harmony and a degree of unity takes real effort. Simply because we are siblings or blood relatives does not mean that we automatically get on well, and the more there are, the harder it can be!

Sometimes we make too many assumptions about families bonding together as if it were the most natural thing in the world, but there is no doubt that recognising and respecting our differences as individuals within a family is very positive and even healing.

We’ve seen so many divisions in the UK, America and now, tragically, in Eastern Europe. The worst dictators in the world have always hated difference and want to make everybody think and behave in the same way. This has led to the greatest crimes of the last hundred years and more.

Understanding human nature and facing the challenge of society surely starts with the family.

We can all aspire to a world where difference is truly celebrated and this may start with accepting how very different our brothers, sisters and relatives are from us, and how much space we need to give them to be themselves. That is part of the wonderful tapestry of human existence.

My little nieces have certainly taught me the wonder of four completely different personalities. There is a family likeness, of course, but there is also a family unlikeness. I look forward to learning a lot more as the years go by.

Monique Sliedrecht.
Monique Sliedrecht.

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