Lecture by Regina van de Berg for FamilySupporters Noordkop, 22 March 2022
What are the similarities between the story of my debut novel All the Women in Me and the field of work of the twenty or so family and system therapists at FamilySupporters Noordkop, where I had the honour of giving a lecture on Wednesday 22 March?
These are the generations that take centre stage. All the Women in Me is about a number of generations of women and how choices around motherhood have affected their lives. In my book, these are the mother-daughter relationships of a number of generations of women, such as Michaela, Melinda and grandmother Marie.
At FamilySupporters Noordkop, generations are also central: ‘In our work with families, we encounter the over-generational transmission of nature and nurture on a daily basis. Just as Regina looks for the story of generations in her book, we also look for clues from parents in the search for explanations of patterns. Recognising one’s own strengths and shortcomings is a first step towards a different future’, says director Henry ten Hoeve.
Writer and care worker in discussion
That was also the reason why he invited me. When we heard that a writer from our own country (Den Helder) had written a beautiful story about this, the link was quickly made. We started talking about it together, the writer and the care worker. In search of recognition.
Repeating or breaking patterns
I found it nice and interesting to tell the family therapists about how the characters in my book repeat generational patterns or just (want to) break through them, in order to give a new direction to their lives. I also briefly touched on the universal question of how to come to terms with what has happened to you, and even how to achieve forgiveness.
In my book, the main character Michaela – after a long journey – is finally able, in a very small moment, to forgive her mother, whom she has long thought had died. Instead, she turns out to have built a new life in the United States, for which she abandoned her family. So what my story is about is how you deal with ‘coming to terms’ when a family member has already died. Is forgiveness possible?
Stumbling over stones
My story and the practical experience of these professionals led to a fascinating exchange. For example, about the importance of ‘involving the generations’ in solving problems, how far you can go, and the role of fathers. Are they sufficiently involved? The naming of ‘stones from previous generations that the daughter can now trip over’ – a remark from a review by a reader – also provided material for discussion. Do you have to clear away all the ‘stones’, in the sense of ‘deleting’, or is it enough to acknowledge them? I personally found that a nice thought to chew on further.
Is All the Women in Me also for men?
The next question was whether All the Women in Me ‘is also fun for men to read’. My answer is a resounding ‘yes’. Because that is what I have received back from my male readers. Including the comment ‘that more men should read this book’.
The relationship with the therapeutic environment
On the relationship of All the Women in Me with the therapeutic environment, Henry says: ‘Regina did a wonderful book reading for us and we bought a few copies to satisfy our curiosity about the story.
We bought a few copies to satisfy our curiosity about the story. Of course, we did not manage to uncover the plot. During the reading, the recognition was there. As FamilySupporters, we look at the circumstances of the child systemically, contextually. An important part of our work is to increase the positive influence of the child’s environment. Unlike the characters in the book, in which Michaela herself goes in search of history out of curiosity, we as professionals are there to arouse that curiosity. After all, history teaches us where we come from and what lessons we can learn from it. And lessons learnt provide opportunities for children.
The healing power of stories
For me, this lecture and the conversations about it showed again how important stories are. The stories of my loved ones and the stories that the family and system therapists come across and consciously pick up, heal. I cited the example where my own mother’s stories about her childhood gave me insights I would not have had otherwise.
I ended my lecture by reading aloud part of my most treasured scene, the death scene of grandmother Marie. Her words, silenced for years inside her, only begin to flow again when she stands in the portal of death. You would like every generation of women and men to have the ability to tell open and honest stories about what they have been through. And thus to heal. Sometimes even beyond the boundaries of death.
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