As we strive to understand our own personal beginnings, we often find that the home is never too far from our reach. Yet this does little to simplify the question of where we begin, as the definition of home has become so complex that it is difficult to find two people who think of it the same. The word offers a feeling of destination, yet in the same respect it is a rich communication of self. It holds a sense of comfortability, a reassurance that there is a place of welcoming and reconcile to be found. In the simplest sense, home is understood as the place where one permanently resides. Yet while many of us can identify a “home,” it is impossible to hold people from all backgrounds to the same standard of what home is.
While home is not synonymous with family, it is a factor that plays a significant role in one’s identity. Childhood upbringing is the foundation of all future growth. One of the most prominent principles of developmental psychology holds that critical periods of development occur in infancy and childhood, and this is heavily dependent on stimulation from one’s environment. Psychologist Erik Erikson’s Stages of Development involve separate, but interconnected, psychosocial crises that shape human identity. The inability to move through the stages in a healthy manner prohibits a healthy personality and sense of self, yet there are elements of this development that are out of one’s control.
Growing up in an unstable or non-nurturing environment can make this healthy development significantly more challenging. Psychologist Grazyna Kochanska says of her work, “In recent years, our team’s longitudinal studies, both correlational and experimental, in low- and high-risk families, have produced a wealth of converging, synergistic evidence to support a novel model of socialization. That model portrays the early parent-child attachment as a powerful catalyst that alters or moderates long-term future developmental cascades and dynamics even though it may not have lasting unqualified, direct effects.” The critical nature of this early connection suggests that the home, at least in the most well-known sense of the word, plays an enormous role in identity development.
In order to further understand the impact of one’s upbringing, I spoke to a few members of the Central Catholic community.
Paul Griffith’s story begins in Miami, Florida, at the scene of vast cultural intersection. With the influx of Cuban refugees, he was able to witness strong conflict within his home at a young age: “Seeing the cultural change, and seeing the reactionary change with that, a lot of Americans were very angry. You would see bumper stickers that said things like ‘Will the last American to leave Miami bring the American flag?’ and this is reactionary to the Cubans coming in. We also had a strong influx from various countries in Central and South America, again it’s an entry kind of port city in that way.”
In addition to the blend of cultures within his environment, Griffith’s experience as an individual of mixed heritage granted him the opportunity to form an identity involving a variety of viewpoints and cultural influences: “I identified more as American because I was not as clearly Hispanic as other friends of mine were, especially with a last name like Griffith, and I don’t quote unquote look Hispanic. But it was kind of funny, I understand when people say things like not knowing where you fit in because in many ways to my, again quote unquote ‘gringo’ friends I was Hispanic, but then to my Spanish friends I’m a ‘gringo.’” “It was never a problem, I was never ostracized for it or anything like that, but it was interesting to see it. And I like it, because I feel it has given me multiple perspectives on things. Culturally I grew up with a lot of Spanish culture, a lot of Colombian culture, but also friends of mine were Cuban or Puerto Rican, or Venezuelan. A lot of Americans tend to think of Spanish culture as just Spanish culture, whereas when you see all these different cultural expressions you see those differences, just even in how you speak Spanish. There’s a very rich diversity to it.”
Natalie Snow finds her roots in Ellington, Connecticut: “I’m an only child, and I grew up in Connecticut, with my mom and dad, and my grandparents lived next door, and then next door to them was my aunt and uncle, then my great aunt lived on the other side of me. So it was very family oriented.” Being raised an only child, Snow was given the opportunity to develop close relationships within her home: “I feel like it has made me have a lot more time with my family, like with my parents especially, so I think that I feel closer to them than other people that might have siblings who don’t necessarily feel that close with their parents. But I feel like I’m super close with them and I can call them anytime and talk to them about anything.”
So it is established that home life and the family system are meaningful in establishing perspective from a young age, but where is the divide between the family and the individual, if any? Where does family end, and where do we begin? What elements of family identity are encapsulated within our own identity? I asked Griffith and Snow, along with senior Annie Brennan, to reflect on this relationship:
Griffith: “I don’t see it as ending at all, it’s kind of a roots and wings kind of thing, taking from relational psychology and all that. It’s always with you, it’s always a part of you, it’s always where you’re coming from. So I don’t see it as ending and beginning necessarily, though it’s a good question. You definitely morph, you definitely change in your own ways through your own education, etc., but it’s always a part of you is the way I think of it. I’ve heard it said, I forget who said this, it’s kind of one of those famous old quotes, where, ‘When you learn another language you gain another soul.’ My first language was actually Spanish. So my dad, he’s fluent in Spanish, and my mom of course is fluent in Spanish, and so they figured they should raise me learning Spanish first since school would be English. I greatly appreciate that they did that because even though Spanish is my first language, I can’t speak it like that anymore, so I do feel it’s given me a different soul, so to speak.”
Snow: “I would say probably like 50-50 because you grow up in like your family, and you grow up in what they taught you to be. Then you become yourself as you get older, as you go off to college. So I feel like it’s half what you’re raised with and half of like, ‘maybe I don’t agree with my family,’ or, ‘maybe I don’t agree with my mom on that thing.’ You realize what else it is.”
Brennan: “Since it’s just my mom, my sister and me, we’re really close. My sister and I keep our personal stuff to ourselves and our friends. But we all understand our similarities, like we’re all really similar, but we’re also really different. Like my mom and I are kind of messier, but my sister’s really neat. My sister and my mom can fight a lot and I’m kind of easy-going. We’re really individual, but we definitely understand that we’re all similar. And then I see my extended family as part of it, like, I see my grandparents at least once or twice a month. And it’s cool cause my mom’s side and my dad’s side are really different, so my mom’s like, ‘You did such a Brennan thing,’ or, ‘You did such a Harris thing,’ which is her maiden name. So we definitely have traits carried from both sides of the family that have kind of come into, specifically, my sister, my mom, and I, we’ve got Brennan and Harris traits.”
To demonstrate the variety of meanings to be taken from the word “home,” I concluded my interviews by asking each individual to reflect on how they would define the word.
Griffith: “I’m probably gonna use come clichés here, but some clichés I think are clichés because of the truth in them. So love definitely defines a home, the thing is how you express that love. How do you build that love, how do you make that love a reality, that’s where it’s a trick because my dad loves me dearly, I love my dad dearly, but he definitely was not able to love me as a child in that kind of situation like I described where it’s like respecting your child’s view kind of thing. In fact, we’ve gotten in huge conflicts over this in adulthood. And nobody’s perfect, but I do think love includes fostering the relationships, fostering the uniqueness of everyone, in a traditional family system, the husband, the wife, the children or child. Support, nurturing, but also allowing difference. There’s a wonderful quote that says, ‘Love is allowing others to be other,’ not wanting to make them agree with you, that’s one I really like. I think that’s part of it, though trying to conclusively define it I think is hard.”
Snow: “I feel like home is like, in a sense, where you sleep at night, but it’s also in a sense of like, where you can go and relax and just be you. Hopefully you’re surrounded by people you love, but that might not necessarily always happen. Like when you’re in college you go back to be with your roommate, and whether or not you like them is one thing, but it’s like still your home because it’s where you live, it’s where you stay for most of the time.”
Brennan: “I think of it as like, familiar places, places that I’ve spent a lot of time it. So like, my childhood home I thought of as a home, cause I lived there for a while. I think of my house now as like a home cause I’ve lived there awhile. Maybe like eight years, so that’s a while. Also I think of Portland and the Pacific Northwest as my home. Even if, like I don’t plan on staying here, I think of this as like my base point. Like, kind of home base. So, I guess, where my roots are. Where I started. I guess yeah, that’d be like home. Somewhere I start.”
The question of home will continue to have diverging answers as long as humanity has diversity. It is proven that family relationships and environmental factors will impact identity, and there are elements of positive growth that can be fostered by certain parental behaviors, yet home cannot be objectively concluded. Family can make a home, yet it does not necessarily define it. I knew this when I began the process of interviewing, and while my aim was never to provide an answer, I knew I wanted to convey the beauty of beginnings. Observing how this connects to one’s definition of home, I found that personal beginnings can never entirely disappear from our line of sight. While a home may be considered a “starting line” of sorts, it is also a constantly evolving part of our identity.
One thing we can decisively say is there is a longing for home within us all. We know home is important, and we desperately want to have that place of comfort. Home is a concept we can grow around, upon, and within; it is a sense of belonging that we will never cease striving for.
Kochanska, Grazyna. “Reflections on the Legacy of Early Relationships.” American Psychological Association, July 2017, http://www.apadivisions.org/division-7/publications/newsletters/developmental/2017/07/early-relationships.aspx?_ga=2.201506066.287924234.1507223670-397803412.1507223670.
McLeod, Saul. “Erik Erikson.” Simply Psychology, 2017, http://www.simplypsychology.org/Erik-Erikson.html.