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actor, agent, author & a family identity

by Shawni

We have been having some family Zoom calls on Sundays lately with my family.

A couple weeks ago I posed a question to everyone that my brother Tal had brought up with me in a previous conversation. (Tal is the brother who lives in Switzerland and had introduced me to the “locus of control” concept I wrote about earlier, I love his thoughts and his questions, and still waiting for a guest post from him some day on the locus of control dealio, that would be so interesting right??).

Anyway, he was curious about when I thought my “agency moment” was: the moment where you become your own autonomous self and find your own voice. I thought that was such an interesting question. When did I detach myself from my nuclear family and really find my own personal voice? That had led to an interesting discussion with Dave, and during our Zoom call I wanted to hear what all my siblings and parents thought about it.

I loved hearing everyone’s thoughts.

I think most of us felt like our “agency moment” happened at different times according to what part of life we were talking about. A gospel-centered “agency moment” may be different from an education or a social “agency moment.” But I tend to think that the general “agency moment” was a little later in life for most of us in my family, (I don’t think it is good or bad to have it early or late, I just think it’s interesting to think about it), and in discussing why it may have been a little later I brought up that maybe it was because we had such a strong family identity, it was harder to break away.

I mean seriously, we had some identity going on I tell you! It was funny that literally a couple days before I had come across this page from my “dream book” I had written when I was in early high school:

Whoa! Now THAT is a strong family identity, right?? (yes, we really had a real, live family flag:)

And I love it so much. We definitely felt like we were part of something bigger than ourselves. We even had six family songs for crying out loud! How grateful I am for that strong family I got to grow up in!

The discussion brought up lots of questions, of course. Can you have too strong a family identity? What kind of identity do we want to create for our own families? Are we glad we each had our “agency moments” when we did? Are our spouses glad? Ha! Would we change those things if we could? Is our job as parents really to create those agency moments?

Somewhere in the conversation someone brought up this thought I thought was cool: At first we are “actors” in the world. We are going with the flow, learning, growing, trying to conform to the world around us. Gradually we grow into being an “agent.” According to the dictionary an “agent” is “a person or thing that takes an active role or produces a specified effect,” still trying to figure things out. And then, eventually we become the “author:” the person who writes his/her own story. I think that is when the “agency moment” happens.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about those things lately and wanted to share. Would love to hear YOUR thoughts on this. Did you have a strong family identity growing up? Do you think that affected your agency moment? Do you think your parents affected that moment or did it come from inside? Do you think the point at which you have that moment affects your success in life? I’d love to hear!

Also, it’s my mom’s birthday today and I really, really adore her. If I can be even a little teeny fraction of the good-to-the-core and kind and thoughtful and humble person she is, all my life goals will be made.

Happy birthday Mama! Love you forever! xoxo

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15 comments

Haley April 22, 2021 - 12:57 pm

I love your thoughts on “agency moments.” A podcast I listen to calls it “emancipation” and he has some incredible things to mull over. Check it out if you’d like! I highly recommend his whole series. Each episode builds on the previous ones, so make sure and start at the beginning. It’s called “The Full Cup” by Craig Berthold https://craigberthold.podbean.com/

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Shawni April 22, 2021 - 10:46 pm

Oh thank you Haley, I will definitely check it out!

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Andi April 22, 2021 - 4:56 pm

Reading this, I almost feel like it might not be an evolving from one position (actor/agent/author) to the next, but more of a conglomerate of the three (at least for me personally). I think that depending upon new situations, new life experiences, we resort back to being “actors” (newly married, a new job, a new parent) and as we become more familiar with our roles and responsibilities we move into being an “agent”, and finally the “author”. And… depending upon the situation, you might stay longer in one position versus a differing situation. I also think that maybe you could slide back and forth between “agent” and “author” as situations evolve and change. I’m probably waaaaayyyyy overthinking all of this, but it is all very interesting. Thank you for always giving me something to “think” about!

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Shawni April 22, 2021 - 10:53 pm

Love these thoughts, Andi, thank you so much for sharing. I so agree with you. Every new situation in life presents itself in such a way that we need to shift roles as we maneuver our way through. Perhaps the more we do this the more we grow and “become” the true “authors” we hope to be some day. You’ve made me think, those “new life experiences” you’re talking about probably include heartbreak and struggles as well as stepping into new phases of life. The things that knock us off our feet…all those things that shift and change our vantage point in one way or another. Thank you for that added insight to think about!
xoxo

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Amy April 26, 2021 - 5:09 pm

Great post.
Do you think because of how strong of an influence your parents have been on you and your siblings , do you still find yourself as an adult and parent of 5 still seeking their approval on your life and especially how you raise your kids? I feel like I am!

Also I know some huge milestones in your life were with your father, like writing the payment for college with your own money. That seemed a huge experience in your life. As a parent did you have your children do that same thing? If not, why? Not in a judgemental way, I’m thinking of things that made a huge impact on us yet we don’t give our kids that same impact. ( not you personally). Just picking your brains.

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Shawni April 28, 2021 - 10:18 am

Amy, good questions. I do think that because I adore my parents and respect them so much, I still love to feel their approval. But the amazing thing about my parents, one of their many gifts, is that they approve of everything! They are such builders. One incredible thing that Dave and I always talk about is that although they are considered “parenting experts,” they have never once came in and give us advice, or told us what they think we should do. Even when I ask for parenting advice, they always tell me I’m doing it way better than they ever did (which sometimes drives me crazy because I really want some guidance!). But I think this has helped me find my own ground and has helped Dave and I create our own family identity in so many ways.

We have done so many things different from how my parents did them, from college payments to jobs to some family systems, but we have also done SO MANY things the same as they did (or at least tried). It’s been tricky over the years because I want my kids to have all that I had (as far as experiences and traveling, etc.). I want them all to serve missions. I want them all to go away for college. I want them all to live away for a while right after they get married. I want them to learn the same things I learned in the same ways because I LOVED how I got to do it. But I have realized, of course, that there is not a one-size-fits-all part of life, and everyone learns and grows in such different ways. So we try to be prayerful and to realize that different things are going to impact different kids in different families in such different ways (whoa, lots of “differents”!).

The common theme through it all has to be unconditional love. It’s just tough to find the balance between pushing because you want the best for your kids, and letting them fly in their own directions. I have sure spent lots of time on my knees trying to figure out that balance I tell you! And maybe I’ll never figure it out, but I think it takes constant attention.

Bottom line of this rambling is that what impacted us may not impact our kids in the same way and as we “work ourselves out of a job” as mothers. And that’s ok!

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Kayli April 25, 2021 - 8:17 pm

After talking about these ideas with my family, most of them said in one way or another, that no one is truly autonomous–we just move from being influenced most by our parents, teachers, coaches, to spouse (or mission president in there, etc). Because once you’re married you’re not really independent because your actions and decisions affect others. Now, I think you were meaning more becoming autonomous from your family of origin specifically, but it was an interesting point nonetheless. Basically, unless you’re a hermit, you have relationships that “demand” or should demand that you consider others when you make decisions. Not only that, but my brother-in-law said he STILL likes to consider what his parents think of a big decision, so even though one becomes autonomous, if you respect your parents/siblings/other mentors, you still can look to them for their perspective. (Like I said, I think I do understand what you meant when you were saying autonomy, but this was a different off-shoot from that idea.) Also, my young niece said, “Well, do mean when I THOUGHT I was independent, or when I ACTUALLY became so.” haha.
And then, about the actor/agent/author idea, we said, well-some books have one author and some books have more than one, and as soon as you get married you are no longer “writing your life” alone, you become a co-creator.
Fun stuff to talk about.

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Shawni April 28, 2021 - 10:22 am

Love these thoughts and YES! I guess that independence and autonomy really is just moving fluidly back and forth through all different life experiences. I love the thought of being a “co-author” in things such as raising a family. But I do think that there are still some things where we are “writing our lives” alone, or at least there should be, because we each have such unique ways of growing and becoming outside of our relationships with others, right? Yes, I’d love to sit down and have a giant discussion about this!

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Lorella April 26, 2021 - 9:45 am

Love your family songs, especially “I’m the one that writes my own story”, is that the same song from “My Turn on Earth”? I love all those songs, especially that one, it’s a favorite. I hope my kids remember those songs fondly, I made sure and played alot of the songs from that show when they were growing up, lots of good positive messages. The first “agency moment” for me was when I joined the Church as a 17 year old, completely changed the direction of my life, and to this day I am still (sadly) the only member in my family, but that one decision set me on the covenant path and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Love reading your blog, you are an inspiration!!!!

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Shawni April 28, 2021 - 10:24 am

Aw thank you Lorealla! Yes, that’s the song. I had completely forgotten about that one! I love that your first “agency moment” was when you joined the church. That certainly has the power to change so many things in life for good. It’s ok that you’re the only member, maybe in some ways that gives you so much broader perspective on life and goodness and love.
xoxo

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Mom April 27, 2021 - 10:43 pm

Oh Shawni, I love this! That two hour conversation was one of my favorites of all time. It was a fun thing for all of us to think about, including me and my own transitions. It’s something we’ve never thought to talk about and was so fascinating to discuss! One of the greatest blessings of this pandemic has been having time to really talk deep on Zoom with those you love the most! Great picture! Other than my hair, I love you girls’ faces the most!

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Shawni April 28, 2021 - 10:25 am

I agree, Mom, LOVE that we get to talk “face to face” even when we can’t be together. Some of the most unique kinds of togetherness have happened over the pandemic. Love you!!!

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Allyson April 28, 2021 - 12:01 am

Interesting to think about. Reflecting back on my family, I see many examples of a strong, loving family who cares deeply for each other and also examples of unhealthy enmeshment. Family dynamics are so interesting.

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Shawni April 28, 2021 - 10:26 am

Yes, SO much to learn from family dynamics!!

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Shawni April 28, 2021 - 10:26 am

(the good and the bad!)

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