05 May, 2010

What is Family?

The lack of emotional security of our American young people is due, I believe, to their isolation from the larger family unit. No two people - no mere father and mother - as I have often said, are enough to provide emotional security for a child. He needs to feel himself one in a world of kinfolk, persons of variety in age and temperament, and yet allied to himself by an indissoluble bond which he cannot break if he could, for nature has welded him into it before he was born.

Pearl S. Buck

"They are your family," tears rolled down my face and sobs poured through my body as I have not experienced for months. I felt raw, exposed, out of place, and out of my league. Having walked into this situation with open heart and mind, I found myself emotionally sensitive to everything around me. Hours earlier I had experienced the straw that broke this camel's back... words that weren't meant to hurt and yet the jab was one that cut far deeper than imaginable; far more deeply than I could find words to describe.

I sat with the emotion.

I cried for a few hours letting it drain from my soul.

Having raised a child to believe that family is more about love and relationship over blood ties, my daughter was having nothing to do with this new idea that her family is not my family as well. She refused to let me follow this path of thinking and feeling.

Here we were – putting theory to the test. We weren’t in the midst of friends and relationships that have evolved over years and experience. We were spending time with a part of her family – my family. Realistically – the choice to be family for all and each of us is just that… a choice as they have known of us for less than a year.

The choice to be a family, for us, is choice. We have been brought together out of love for a child - my daughter - and the choice to be a family is one that will be based on that choice as we are not tied together by blood or by marital contract. We will elect to be a family based upon our desire to support and love one another; honest communication; and a desire to be a family.


It is about blood, but it isn't always about blood.

Blood might create a sort of bond or sometimes a feeling of obligation, but it doesn't necessarily create a family. A family is created through hard work, communication, and a desire to be family - and an openness to be a family.

These are the thoughts that started my month of family - the April RAOKO theme for the month. What better way to start this month and this theme than be taking another step in becoming a member and a supporting and working participant in my daughter's paternal extended family.

The beginning of the month found me traveling to another state, to another family entirely – one that wants to be part of mine. I have embraced this family, my daughter’s family, to the extent possible. Throughout the year they have experienced heartache and joy. They have shared in ballet performances and family hardships and in family projects. As I have embraced them giving them a chance to know my daughter – a family member kept from them (a secret) for a decade – my family has embraced them to. Last fall, they traveled to see us once a month. At Christmas we shared a group hug in a conference call that included all of my daughter’s grandparents and great grandparents for the first time. In April we were able to travel to see them – while the end of the month found us preparing for their return to see us.

“Friends are great, but you can always count on your family.” Someone told me just over a week ago. I have thought about this a bit only to find that I agree and yet I don’t.

In the past year and month I have been reminded that family is something that we define and create through our choices and our actions. I have cousins that live less than fifty miles away, yet despite efforts to communicate – it just doesn’t work. Yet I have friends who will travel a few thousand miles to support us (or I will travel for them) just because that is what friends do – that is what my family does.

That is what family is for; That is what Friends are For!

So often I hear family defined (socially) as two parents and their kids. And in this corner of the world, family is largely two parents and their kids living under one roof. My daughter is often the only child in her class with a single parent; she is often the only child with a family that is “different” at first glance. And her family is not the typical family – it never will be the typical family. But how many families actually are? In our case it is easy to see - our craziness or differences are on public display. The diversity of this family is something to be appreciated as it is about the courage to do it “our way” over adhering to social norms or models. It is about love, honesty, communication, and the desire to build a family. It is about friendship and love and people who care for one another.

April, and the Family theme of RAOKA, have allowed me to remember and to experience family. For me it is the diversity of personalities. It is the conflict, the love, the history that comes with the package, and the work to accept and allow and grow as each member of the family changes or evolves.

And families look and feel different. There isn’t a cookie cutter model that says “this is family.” Families might have similar characteristics, but we each define “family” and that might change through our lives, experiences, and journeys. For me, family is not my blood ties to this and that cousin or the genealogy that traces me back to Charlemagne’s wives. It is as much about the blood that binds as it is the love that connects and the work that we each do to open our hearts and share our lives with one another. Thus, my daughter’s paternal family is my family; my friends are my family.

Here’s to family – for the way we each define it.

RAOKA is founded on the idea that we can do little things to make a difference. The little things in life, the little things that we all can do and do daily – like laughter, express passion, gratitude… These acts are noted by various people in accordance with a theme chosen each month. The April theme was FAMILY – May’s theme is “SERENITY”.

For more information on participating and RAOKA, please contact Jane Be Nimble!

For other posts on family:

RAOKA: Family (Jane Be Nimble)

RAOKA – Family (Eden Journal)

One Big Happy Family (Positive Provocations

Family Redefined – Ms Llama

RAOKA Family (Jungle of Life)

RAOKA for April: Family (Gayze)


ericwat said...

Very nice thoughts. It's wonderful that you have expanded your family and brought everyone together. Not everyone can or would consider doing something like this. It sounds like everyone's lives are a little richer because of it.
~Eric | EdenJournal.com

Mama Llama said...

What a great post, TE. You have an exceptional way of looking at your family situation--but I could expect nothing less, as you ARE The Exception.

One of the most difficult tasks is breaking from what we know and always took comfort in, how we came to define such integral institutions in our lives such as family, and forming a new concept to include those beyond obligatory blood lines.

Excellent thoughts, TE. Be well.

The Exception said...

Eric - Family is a gift... and it is wonderful when a family can open its heart and its arms to accept and work together.

Ms Llama - Words are labels. Sometimes I think we get caught up in the standard definitions and forget that we can define them for ourselves. I wanted to give my children a family such as the one I knew - and I give that to my daughter through that same family. Yet, I am not my mom and my experience and personality have me moving in a different direction. My daughter will know family (as will your children) differently and equally as enriching - just family based on their parents and those individual journeys.

dadshouse said...

I miss having a big extended family near by. My family these days consists of me and my kids - on the days they are with me. Else I feel like it's just me. I have relatives in other places, but we just aren't that connected.

The Exception said...

David - In the past year, I ahve come to understand that family is everywhere and in far more places than we think. You have family here - you just need to open your heart to realize that an Exception and a Llama can be family of the friends sort! ;)

I am away from my family too - thousands of miles! But I have found family in some interesting ways.

Gayze said...

Your daughter will grow to womanhood truly blessed, for she's had a living example of open-hearted understanding of the truly good things in life.

Thank you for this lovely sharing. I'm so glad I stopped by today.

TAG said...

The thing that rings the most true to me is an old cliche.

You can pick your friends but you can't pick your family.

Oh sure, if everyone took seriously the responsibility that comes with being a member of a family you wouldn't have to choose. As we know, not everyone does.

In the end you hit it just right when you said that your friends would travel a 1000 miles to support you in a time of need. Far too often, supposed family won't travel across town. Sad but true.


Lance said...

Each family is definitely very unique. What you have is beautiful...just as it is. And family can take on so many roles - having friends that you consider family...what a wonderful, wonderful thing. Keep being a light in this world, and a light for your sweet daughter...

Sorrow said...

In my home we have 2 kinds of family.
Blood family
and heart family.
They are similar and different,
and having the word in front of family, helps my babies to understand and moderate there levels of trust
and understanding.
It's the best i can give them, the lessons are theirs alone...