The True Meaning of Family
To some, the true meaning of family means a group of people related by blood or ancestry. To others, it has nothing to do with genes and everything to do with love, compassion, and support.
The definition of the word family can mean many things. From shared bloodlines and ancestors to a household made up of parents and children, these definitions seem better suited to explain words like relative or cohabitation rather than what a family consists of. These textbook definitions may have the technical terminology right, but they lack the core meaning, which is stability, love, trust, and support.
Like most of you, I have met and formed relationships with thousands of people in my lifetime; some family, some friends, and some people I hope to never see again. Each bond unique in their own right. Some of these relationships may not have us labeled as relatives on paper; but yet, these people somehow feel more like family members than those I share my own blood with. So what does that mean? Just because someone doesn't live in your household or have a common ancestor, that they should not be considered family? Even though they have stood by your side through good times and bad, have been honest and supportive, kind and generous, yet exist in your life without a genealogical link, it would be wrong to call them family? You can't choose your family when it comes to whose blood runs through your veins, and it's unfair to not include anyone who doesn't fit this definition. For me, it is the actions of people and our relationships that earn family status, rather than our last names matching up based off some DNA testing. We live in a time where the modern family is no longer just a mother, father, and their biological children. There are endless makeups of a household that are completely acceptable, normal, and desired, and that is why, along with these evolving situations, the true meaning of family is bound to change as well. Let's take a look at what people consider when defining the word "family," and what a family by choice could mean for you.
The modern family isn't as easy to define as you think.
Family is not what it was 50 years ago, that's for sure. A father, mother, and their children all living together under one roof is what used to be the standard when people considered what defines family. However, now an everyday family situation can be many things, like a single parent and their child, grandparents raising their grandchildren, same sex couples with adopted or surrogate children, stepparents bringing up stepchildren, blended families, even being childfree doesn't mean you have no family. The scenarios go on and on. Humans aren't meant to be alone, and it is through family that we are able to receive the codependence we naturally seek. People will always go to extreme lengths to have a family that they can call their own.
When I asked my 7-year-old son what family means to him, he simply replied, "People who love me," and he couldn't be more right. If a family is created from love, who is to say what is right and wrong? No one, that's who. Luckily, as time progresses, society continues to grow and accept the many possibilities of what types of family exist; however, there is still much more that has to be done to help "blended" or "mixed" families feel more included in the umbrella term of "family."
Time and circumstance creates family.
I don't know if it's an Italian thing, but I have a lot of "cousins" who aren't technically my cousins. However, whenever I think about them, refer to them, and communicate with them, they are, in my heart and mind, my cousins. Some are from the neighborhood I grew up in and others were friends of my parents since before I was born. Whatever the case, they have been constants in my family's life for as long as I can remember. We may not see them every holiday or with every passing year, but when it matters most, we are there for them and they are there for us. With every major milestone and unfortunate tragedy, it is their names right alongside my aunts, uncles, and other biological family members, that I turn to for love and support.
You see, time is a powerful thing. You can't buy it, you can't control it, and you wish for more of it while, at times, wishing to speed it up. Time also creates and strengthens bonds, and allows friendships to grow and deepen socially, mentally, and emotionally. If you can get through all the time you are allotted in this life with all of its surprises and still maintain a relationship of that depth, then these people are as much real family as anyone you share your family tree with.
Friends can also be family.
There is a common saying that goes something like, "Friends are the family you choose," and that couldn't be more accurate. Friendships are our chance in life to choose the human beings we want to surround ourselves with, becoming the family members we want to have. We look for personalities that click and balance our own. Similar interests and hobbies. Not too judge-y, while still being supportive and reliable. There really is something to say about the friends in our lives that have seen some ugly times along with the pretty ones and still choose to stick around. They are with you because they want to be, not because they have to be. Something about that brings a sense of security and confidence to the relationship. Now, with friends who feel like family members, time may cause separation at points; but with true friendship, that won't matter, just like it doesn't with family. I have the same two girlfriends from elementary school, and despite the many, many different turns we took in life, I still consider them my family. They know me, my history, and my family. They have dried more tears and know more secrets than any other people in the world. Now, 20 years later and with our own families to raise, unfortunately, time has brought gaps of absence. You can bet your ass though that if they need me, I will be there.
Throughout my life, I have made a handful of these friendships. They exceed the definition of friendship, and bring to me more of what family relationships do. Even in my 30s, thanks to my children selecting preschool playmates, I have made a few connections that I honestly couldn't live without. They have gotten me through the most trying of times, including mommy meltdowns, marriage nightmares, and early mid-life crises. I trust my children in their hands and call their numbers before many of my own family's. That is why it is that, without a doubt, I know I was blessed with extended family and not just close friends, defining what the true meaning of family means to me.
As Robin Roberts once said, "The best part of life is when your family becomes friends and when your friends become family," and I couldn't agree with anything more than that.