I study History. In both second and third year, genealogy and family history came up and in both scenarios, contribution was compulsory. But even if it hadn’t been, I was convinced that I would be the only one who sat the activity out, and so it would be obvious that there was “something wrong” with my family. I was convinced that people would think there was “something wrong” with me, for refusing to contribute. So, I made something up about my great-great-grandmother that came nowhere near the truth. Ultimately, I was sure that no one else in the class had strained family relationships. This may have been the case, but thanks to the taboo on estrangement, I’ll probably never know. It seems unlikely that I really am the odd one out.
Sometimes, though, I sort of am.
I have been estranged from my parents for almost 4 years, now. I know rationally that my situation is not unique: families come in all shapes and sizes, and not all of them can get along in perfect harmony. But during my time at University, I struggle to align my head and heart with this rational thinking. My inner circle of friends all have 2 parents, and healthy family relationships. Their parents support them in their struggles and celebrate their successes. Social time at Uni quickly became isolating when I realised I was the only person in my group of friends who didn’t miss home. I was the only estranged student.
But the fact is this: I am not alone. Some students have one parent. Some students have 3. Some students have none. It’s just that not everyone divulges their family situation upon meeting you! And even when you build a stronger bond with someone, the taboo on estrangement often leads us to keep it private. Fundamentally, we don’t know whether we’re going to be met with a warm “what can I do to support you better?” or an awkward smile and a “that must be hard!”
However, when you do find the courage to open up about your estrangement, I think you’ll be surprised at the prevalence of this response:
This is precisely why its time for Exeter to mark ESSW, and why we should ensure it continues every single year from now. There is no need for students to feel alone like I have. There are loads of us: all we needed was the permission and a safe space in which to talk about it.