Guest Post

Guest Post — Shan Jeniah on Kinship

Today I am happy to present a guest post from Shan Jeniah, whom I met through ROW80, and had the pleasure of meeting IRL.  

Image from the University of Manitoba Anthropology website

Pondering Kinship

When I first accepted Elizabeth’s invitation to write a guest post, I  had no idea what I wanted to write.

A week or three later,  while I was driving somewhere, alone as I seldom am, the wordfeelingconcept flashed across my mind, with a vivid visualemotional awareness of Elizabeth, and I knew what I wanted to write about…

( I know that those invented words above aren’t real, and that they might even be gibberish, to some. But I’ve spent the last few years learning to distinguish the unique ways in which I and others experience life, thought, feelings, and the like, and, for me, this was an inspiration that flashed across a wide band of perceptions and awarenesses, all at once. Hence the words that describe what happened in my mind at that instant).

What was the word with all the diverse plumage?


Kinship, and a memory of the only time I physically met Elizabeth – sitting with her at the same table I sometimes share with my oldest, deepest friend.

Kinship, and the way the words she writes fall with soft power into my mind and my heart.

Kinship, and how we arrived at the cafe from different directions and at the same time.

Kinship, and the loveliness of her smile; kinship, and the way her eyes met mine, directly, but comfortably. Only an honest person can meet a virtual stranger’s gaze with openness and warmth.

It strikes me that I share that type of connection with most of the people in my life these days. We have conversations that range from the political to personal, erotic to profound. Sometimes, it’s nonsense chatter – but chatter that builds connection, and soothes spirits worn from too much depth.

Too often, kinship gets tangled up in the definition and connections of DNA – as though our kin are those to whom we are blood-related. And, maybe, then, people are wondering, as I did for many years, why they don’t feel a deep connection with their kin, why they seem to have so little in common that every meeting and interaction leaves them empty and cold – or worse, enraged or as though they had been attacked, perhaps shredded to their core.

When I think of kinship, I think not of those who share my genetic legacy, but those with whom I share connection based upon a mutually held belief that the relationship is beneficial, and who will accept that we are each as we are.

This interpretation of kinship was largely missing in my own upbringing, at least amongst my family of origin. There is a tendency there to look at life from the outside in – new acquisitions; rules and punishments; homes and cars; and outside accomplishments. The surfaces of things must look good, evoke a sense of success, hard work, and pride, and, hopefully, envy in others.

My own tendency to look at life from the inside out never quite fit, at the best of times, and, ultimately, it has led to the dissolution of several of these relationships. I tend to favor poetry, philosophy, and the pursuit of passion – the depths and breadths of life – rather than the surface. I love spelunking and scuba diving, mountains and canyons and forests and oceans and deserts, and pondering questions to which I will never learn the answers in this life.

Something about me led my mother, when I was 9, to refer to me as her “closet philosopher”. But I was closeted for a reason.  Often, there were harsh consequences imposed on me simply for being who I was.

Sometimes, when people learn that I am estranged from most members of my immediate family, they express sadness or a suggestion that we seek family counseling to heal the relationships.

These people mean well, but they don’t understand.

My growth has been a lifelong deepening and widening, usually below the surface, where it is not  easily seen. My perspective has shifted, and I will no longer hide the fact that I am not as I was, with them, or that my inclinations are very different than theirs.

We drive old cars, live in a humble home, shop more often at thrift stores and yard sales and on eBay than in department stores. We’ve chosen to allow our children to grow and learn in a natural way that focuses on autonomy and partnership rather than parental authority.

And, somewhere along the way, I  have become a vital threat to these family members, because, despite living very differently, we are a happy family.

The surfaces they value obscure the wide and the deep of my life. I have become poison to them, and there can be no reconciliation, because to accept me as I am would force them to question their own choices in a way they are unwilling to do.

I have many kinships, all of them with people who have room in their worldview to accept that mine works for me, and consciousness enough not to assume that living a fulfilling life based on my own needs and desires equates to demeaning those who choose differently.

True kinship must come with mutual, unforced respect of the integrity of the other self; and its undeniable right to be just as it is.

I am fortunate to have so many souls in my life with whom I can relate in this way, and to be able to learn and grow from my kinship with them.

And I am thrilled to remember the ease, warmth, and honesty that I felt, that day with Elizabeth, and to have the promise of other meetings and interactions in the future.

May you all find your kindred, and treasure them as they treasure you…

Please feel free to comment here or on Shan’s blog here.  For more about what you will find there, here is an excerpt from Shan’s About page:

I am myself.  Like most other selves, I don’t condense well into a few simple lines of text.  Like a schoolbook, these words can only trace the shape of me, hint at the light and shadows within.

There is far more to me than you will see here, on this page.

There are words that apply to me, although they don’t define me: writer, mother, lover, adventurer, wife, reader, seeker, learner, mentor, partner, intuitive, delver, playful spirit, ambassador, advocate, talker, listener. strewer of joy into the lives of others, singer, sensualist, awakening, passionate, faithful, spontaneous, strong, daring, caring, sharing, wide-eyed wanderer.

Read more here.


20 thoughts on “Guest Post — Shan Jeniah on Kinship”

  1. I am sorry you don’t get on with your family but I am more sorry for them than for you because they are missing out on spending time with a great person! Lovely post!

    1. Janet – Thank you!

      For many years, I thought that I was somehow causing the attacks and ridicule. It took an ugly 18 hour Facebook attack, carried out while I was offline, to show me that there was more to it than I was responsible for.

      Although I wish it were different (my parents live very close to us, in the house I grew up in), I came to realize am no longer willing to have relationships where I am not wanted and appreciated as I am, and am expected to accept hostile or apathetic treatment while giving nothing other than sweetness, light, and devotion…

      I hope that someday, things won’t need to be this way for me to coexist peacefully with them…

      But they are as they are, now, and my focus is on being the best I can to those who share my home – and for myself, and for those who do find value in what I have to offer.

      Once I learned to go where my heart and soul led me, I began to find so many incredible, fascinating, inspiring, KIND people….people who make me better than I would be without them…

      People like you, and the others who posted here!

  2. “The surfaces of things must look good, evoke a sense of success, hard work, and pride, and, hopefully, envy in others.”

    This statement spoke to me Shan. I too was raised with similiar values and I found them very superficial. But I love your definition of kinship and I think we all long for that kind of relationship with others, especially our family. But unfortunately that doesn’t always happen. I think it’s wonderful that you’ve found friends that have become closer than your immediate family. The special part is, you chose their association and they’ve chosen you. That’s what makes their kinship so unique. You no longer have to keep up a facade. You are free to be yourself and be accepted as such.

    Be kind to yourself Shan! Great post! 🙂

    1. Karen –

      I carried so much of that forward into my own family, without even realizing it.

      The last few years, where I have let go more and more, have been a wonderful breath of fresh air!

      We are all happier without the trappings that are just for show.

      What you said about these kinships is so true.

      I know you are having a difficult time in your life just now, and I want you to know that while I’m being kind to me, I am also holding warm, healing thoughts in my heart for you and yours.

  3. while I have always maintained friends are quite oftenworth more than immediate family and agree on different values being a threat to established order of things – I agree with everything you say however I was brought up on the expression ‘kith and kin’ – is it not in use any more I wonder? the ‘kith’ is the friendships – true friendships, forged in the interests/hardships/experiences that we share with true ‘kith’ – the kin is still the DNA of our exsistance – so I treasure my ‘kith’ above all else and apart from my parents (deceased) and my sister I have no kin I would wish to pass the time with.

    Kith is a softer word than Kin and I have always loved the sound of it.

    1. Alberta –

      I love the word kith, but kithship…hmmmn. Maybe that’s the reason kinship gets used for both, because kithsip falls strangely on my tongue and in my mind.

      My favorite term for it is kindred. I like the feel of that word. It’s like a smooth marble of a word, with rich and fascinating details…

      What a lovely direction you gave to this discussion! =D

  4. I like your redefinition of kinship and the associated feeling of closeness. Maybe at one time it was exclusive to a blood tie, but now it relates more to that feeling of ‘kin’ we used to have.

    1. Mike –

      With my family of origin dynamic, I can see how, in families like mine, the “blood-tie” thing can be used as a control mechanism.

      I don’t discount my relatives, and I won’t accept treatment from them that I would not accept from anyone else…

      In the end, it’s my life, and my time, and I choose to spend it with those who value and inspire me.

      I didn’t exactly set out to redefine anything, but these comments make me grateful to have given voice to my feelings.

      Thank you for taking the time to comment!

  5. I love the honesty of this post. We all have to find our paths in life. I am very close to my family, but I’ve learned a lot about myself through the other kinships in life I’ve developed, especially in the last ten years and since becoming a mom.

    Elizabeth & Shan, I so enjoy both of you and am honored to be in the ROW80 support group (he he) with you.

    1. Tia –

      Yes, becoming a mom made a huge difference in how I see these things.

      For many years, I was my mother’s daughter, and a staggering amount of my time, energy, and resources were used in appeasing her, meeting her demands, and forgiving her mistreatments and abuses.

      Now, I am Jeremiah and Annalise’s mother. My priority is in building an honest and open relationship with them. I don’t want them to be connected to me solely because I gave them life, or raised them….I want them to enjoy my company because I honor and respect them, and I am pleasant to be around….

      And I enjoy you tremendously!

  6. First, thank you, Shan and Elizabeth (and all) for this post. Not that the ponderings are new ones.

    Back in those days after college when there seemed a need to “name” this feeling of connection…of old souls meeting…there were all these attempts to classify the experience. “Chosen Family”, “Systers”, “Clan”…. Some of so many attempts to describe things that really just “are”.

    Not that the names have all vanished. The old jokes have taken on a sweeter more silly nuance than the fierce determination of youth…. The names are more fond and cozy than necessary. We realize that life has always been this way. After all, though it is limited in far too many places by the ideals of others, what is a marriage, but the making of a “family” by two biological strangers who have found a lasting connection?

    But I do agree with Alberta. Kith does have a lovely sound. Always thought that.

    1. Ah, Sys –

      You always will be. You perhaps, above and beyond all others.

      How to measure a kinship or kithship that has lasted since we were both four? How else to explain that you are who I think of first when I think “sister” – long before the sister with whom I share DNA and a bedroom?

      I’ve stopped trying. As you said, it just is. =)

      I am profoundly grateful for all the years that it has been – so very much of our lives! ; even the rough years.

      So happy you stopped by. My chosen family began with you, all those years ago, and I love you.

      1. ❤ As always…

        Though, I do have to wonder if sometimes, these meetings aren't just the returning of souls to each other after the the change from life to life moves them through distances and times….

        If so, even despite some of the rough years, we were both lucky to hasve found each other as early in our lives as we did.

  7. Lovely post, Shan, and I agree with Mike — I really enjoy this redefinition of kinship. In many ways, it reminds me of the concept of “fictive kin,” those strong bonds between people that aren’t based on blood ties. While I do have a close relationship with my parents, I sometimes think that the fictive kin that we choose to keep in our lives are even more important.

    1. Lena –

      I had not heard the phrase ‘fictive kin’ before. It seems apt, though.

      For me, it was these types of relationships that allowed me to see the abusive tactics of ‘blood kin’ for what they were…efforts to control me for their own uses, without regard for the effects on me.

      Thank you for taking the time to reply!

  8. Hi, all!

    I’m a bit red-faced. I checked for comments here right after Elizabeth posted it, and there were none…and now I see I have been unintentionally ignoring all of you and your lovely words…

    I will be fixing this in the next day or so!


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