If there’s one thing that true about the word ‘family’ in any culture, it’s that calling someone family denotes a level of importance and commitment to the relationship you have with them. Nothing else is a given.
Family can mean blood ties. Or adoption. Or marriage. Or friends. But all of these links can be severed through estrangement, abandonment, emancipation and divorce. No one is obliged to keep the family they are born with, or acquire by proxy and nor should they, if this family consists of influences that are more destructive than they are joyful.
I have been told by my biological family, that I have no understanding of what it means to be part of a family. It’s true according to their definition. My link with my biological family was severed through adoption and my link with most of my adopted family I chose to cut myself.
My family was not one I was born to, it was one I made and continue to make on a daily basis. My family is a group of people who I trust and whose support I use to empower myself to grow in this world. I have relatives of course, but they are not who I consider my family.
My relatives don’t understand this. For them, blood is the only qualification you need and its presence supersedes the need for trust, honesty and communication. Blood, is used by them as an excuse not to invest in the very qualities which make a relationship emotionally rewarding.
Many of my relatives (in both my families) are caught in the sexist, classist, religious net of upper middle class England. There are titles, both earned and paid for. There is land and fighting about who owns the land, who should own the land, who should inherit the land and whose land is better. There is one-upmanship about income, prospects and who conforms to these ideals the best. I am (obviously) not part of this and nor do I want to be.
I have been told that my children will learn by example. That my inconsistency in keeping up with my relatives will rub off on them. That I will teach them it is okay to discard family as and when I see fit. But I see that there is a marked pattern in whom I discard in my life. I discard those who do not communicate with me honestly. I discard those who judge, deny reality and who prefer bonds of duty and obligation over love and respect for each other. I discard those who cannot accept me for my choices and my life. I discard those who create the illusion of superiority by classist, sexist behaviour. And it means that most of my relatives are not part of my life.
“The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each others’ life. Rarely do members of one family grow up under the same roof.”~ Richard Bach, Illusions
My children on the other hand, are a part of my life and not just because I love them with every fibre of my being. I am honest with them. I try my best to respect them for who they are and accept them (although it is a constant deliberation on how to bring them up to best function in today’s society which has pockets of hypocrisy everywhere). I teach them to communicate and make it easy for them to tell me what they really think. And if I ever do not have respect and joy in the way they choose to live their lives, I fully accept that they may discard me… for their own growth and empowerment. It will be my own fault.
I cannot talk to the majority of my family about things which mark my life. My divorce, my adoption, my alcoholism, my exploration into sexuality is all swept under the carpet. Ignored and disparaged. The most transformative experiences of my life are for them the most shameful; and my honesty is vulgar. That doesn’t sound like respect and joy to me.
Family, say my relatives, is the only thing you can rely on.
And to that I say ‘Amen. At last something we can agree on.’
Because if you can depend on your family to judge, condemn and lie, if you cannot communicate, accept and trust them, then you cannot rely on them and you are not obliged to accord them that all important status of family.