Family doesn’t have to be conventional. Blood and DNA need not apply. Because if that was the only way to define family, I’d be all alone. I have no parents, children, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles or first cousins. By the time I was 20, my immediate family was gone, all deceased.
My ideas of family have always been outside of traditional or nuclear definitions. I didn’t grow up with a large family. It was just my mom, brother and grandparents. I did experience somewhat of an extended family. Although my mom was an only child, she had many aunts, uncles and first cousins, many of whom she had grown up with. Although none of them lived in our town, many weren’t far away. We visited my great aunt and uncle (my Pop’s brother) often in Greenville. I considered them my aunt and uncle and loved to visit them. Their children, my mom’s first cousins, were around a lot too growing up. They visited us; we visited them. I think she considered them more like brothers. They teased each other a lot because she went to the University of South Carolina, and they were all Clemson grads. I am thankful for these memories and how lovely they were to me growing up.
My paternal grandmother came from a large family. She had I think eight siblings, most of whom I didn’t know or passed before I was born. I did spend a lot of time with her two closest sisters: one taught me piano and always had fun stories to tell me. The other was a painter and traveler, who always shared pictures and stories of her adventures. I’m glad to say I still have several of her paintings hanging in my house.
As the only grandchildren on either side, I’m sure my brother and I were spoiled. If not with stuff then with attention. I was so lucky to have so much one-on-one time with my grandparents. And even though they’ve been gone a long time, I still think of them often and what they taught me: to play cards, sew, bake cakes, be curious, be brave and much more.
Because my frame of reference of family was small, I never gave much consideration to if I wanted to have a big family. As a girl growing up my aspirations were not centered on getting married and having kids. My dreams were about a career.
When my family started to disappear is when I started to rethink the idea of family. Thinking about humans on the most primal level, family is about ensuring a bloodline. Early on in human history, it was about survival, not just of one’s own genes but the species. Now we’re overpopulated so I think we’re good on species preservation for now.
In thinking about the beginnings of what family was and what society paints it to be, how would I reconstruct what family means? And since I have no way to pass along my genes or traits, what does that mean? Should I believe that the gene pool didn’t need my bloodline to continue? I’ve wrestled with many questions about family for years; here’s what I’ve concluded.
Family is my choice now. It’s way beyond genetics. Having the same genetic makeup really has nothing to do with love. Family is people who are there when it matters, unconditional love and feeling like you can just be you. It’s people that love you in spite of yourself and will fight for you and with you.
I wouldn’t want anyone to ever be sad for me because I know what real family is. Most people probably won’t ever know this. Justin and I have made our own little family with Honey, Fawn and Ellie. And I’m very thankful to have his kids in my life, too. I shouldn’t call them kids because they are adults, and really fine ones at that.
And the heart of my reimagined family has been my besties, wonderful women who I couldn’t have made it without: Heather, Jenn, Caron, Kelda, Cortney and Jennifer. You are so much more than friends, you’re family! Thank you for believing in me and loving me.
Everybody’s family looks different. No matter what anyone else says, if it’s built on love and trust then nothing else should matter. There were times I felt incredibly alone because my first family was gone. Now, I know it just helped me know what love is so I could build my own.