Family Matters – Mathilde Petford

Mathilde Petford will be speaking at TEDxWolverhampton which is live online on Saturday 7th November 1-5pm. Free tickets are still available.

In 2014 I went to university and found myself losing sense of my own identity due to the intensity of the new surroundings. I was in a new city with new people and a completely new schedule. I remember the first time I went back home after moving to university, as soon as I stepped off the train in Wolverhampton station the familiarity flooded over me, as I first saw my family I breathed in a sense of remembering who I am. I would go home every couple of weeks to stay grounded, I needed the clarity of people and places that I knew well.

2020 has felt very similar, everything is unknown, unpredictable and unsettling. We don’t know what to expect month by month and making plans feels almost impossible. When the UK first went into lockdown many of us began working from home for the first time, stopped seeing friends and family and had a completely new schedule to learn. I found myself being reminded of trying to adjust to university, the feeling of losing my own sense of identity. I have learned that there is little more effective at reminding me who I am than seeing family; the first time I stood in the street talking to my family on their doorstep after lockdown was the moment I remembered myself again. The world could be quite literally closing down on us and feeling connected to family could make us whole again.

Writing my TEDx talk during a global pandemic has been interesting to say the least. My imposter syndrome always sits on my shoulder heavily, so feeling like what I have to say is important during this year has been a challenge. My talk is about society modernising its views on what a family is, the role a family can play and who belongs in your family. Whilst writing I was reminded about how much I have relied on my family and my community to hold me (metaphorically, I haven’t hugged my parents for 7 months) during this year. I have been reminded that in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t matter who your family are, whether they are your blood relatives or people you’ve chosen to be your family, they are a big part of what makes us who we are.

I am so fortunate to have strong relationships with family who are still here and local to me. 2020 has taught me not to take this for granted, but I can’t help but think about the people who don’t have family around them. I think about students in lockdown at university accommodation sending messages to each other using Post-it notes on their windows, neighbours collecting shopping for those who are isolating and all of the zoom quizzes we organised for each other to stay in touch, stay laughing and stay distracted. It didn’t only need to be our relatives that helped us stay connected, we all play a role in supporting and being kind to those around us; a role that has never been more important.

When the world is so uncertain, all we can rely on is those around us; this might be family, it might be friends but it also might be the person living next door. Check in on people, let your loved ones know that you love them and pass on an act of kindness; because they’ll be the things that ground us when everything else feels like it’s floating away.