If someone were to ask me who my family is, I would probably start by listing those with the “most life experience” and work my way down.
I currently have two great-grandmothers who are still living their best lives, followed by my two grandfathers, my grandmother, my parents, a sea of aunts, uncles, and cousins and my little brother, all of which I share blood relations with.
However, I wouldn’t stop with just my genetics.
I extend those I call “family” to my Grandma Noreen. Technically, she is considered my step-grandmother, who I don’t have blood ties to, but this amazing woman has been in my family since before I was born.
In my eyes, my Grandma Noreen is just my Grandma Noreen. That’s it. No strings attached. I’m so truly blessed to have her in my life for all the love, support, time and memories she has given me.
When I was younger, I had a hard time keeping all of my grandmas and greatgrandmas straight.
While I wasn’t sure how I was related to them all as a child, I also didn’t worry too much about it because each one loved me.
I would also stretch my family to include my Aunt Nancy and my cousins Lindsey and Chelsea as well.
My mom and my Aunt Nancy have been friends for over 30 years. My mom helped my aunt deliver her daughter and held her even before Nancy did. While my Aunt Nancy’s daughters are a few years older than I am, we were still close enough in age to grow up together.
One summer, I remember Chelsea playing soccer with my brother and me in the backyard for hours while listening to the Imagine Dragons on loop.
Together, we would have at least one family game day every few months that consisted of pajamas, finger-foods and an assortment of games.
It’s because of this that I consider them family for more than just the fact that we have known each other since I came into the picture 19 years ago.
The amount of love, support, patience, fond memories and yearly traditions we have really keep us close as a family.
I also classify myself as having two sisters who I had the privilege of meeting during my high school years.
Carson and Haley made my awkward freshman, sophomore and junior years so much more enjoyable. We struggled through marching band together, and I still rely on them to help me through my rough days.
My point is, just because you don’t share genetics with people in your life, it doesn’t mean that they are not your family.
Good memories are sometimes the only thing that connect me to some of my closest family members.
This theory works in reverse too. Blood relations don’t get a reserved seat in my family.
I may share a genetic connection with many people, but it’s beyond ridiculous to be forced to consider some of them as my family.
I’ve been in situations with family members who treat me and my family like a second thought, and we are told just to suck it up. We’re told we aren’t allowed to get mad because they are “family.”
My opinions, feelings, mental health, time and energy have been put on the back burner not only because I was just a teenager, but also because all the things I felt were deemed invalid when dealing with members of my blood family.
On the other hand, I have people in my life who I have no genetic connection to, yet are more involved in my life, care about me, accept me for who I am and have never once made me feel less than human.
These select few not only validate everything about me, they also don’t make me feel like I need to work to earn their validation.
Reminding myself that blood does not define family has helped me work through many times where I felt I was used as a pawn in petty family issues.
While I fully respect working through family issues, and I understand that life is not smooth and easy, healing is a two-way process.
I can only give so much without the other side putting effort in. I’ve learned that I need to cut off those who are toxic in my life and find comfort in my real family.
I feel like I’ve reached an age where everyone around me tells me that I need to figure out who I am, what I want and how I want others to treat me.
My real family, while they can put me in my place, also want me to make mistakes as I figure out who I am.
They don’t hold me to some unrealistic standard, get mad and look poorly upon me. They want me to learn on my own. They trust that I will grow into a good person because I want to and not because I was expected to.
Family is what you make it. Just as when someone makes a house their home, I make my family, and blood is far from what defines it.
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