What is a family?

familytreeNow-a-days families are made up of all sorts of configurations. In these modern days, just like much of our customs and language- it’s a muddled mess that can mean different things to different people. For some a family means there close knit group of friends, for others it’s a mixture of moms, step moms, second cousins once removed, aunts that aren’t really aunts and uncles that might soon become step dads.

The other day I received an email from my ex husbands new wife informing me that I was not a part of their family. Now while this is technically true, the definition of family is a group of parents and children living together in a household. It’s not, in my opinion what the spirit of the word actually means.  Let the muddiness begin!

It’s no secret that my ex husband, his wife and I do not get along, however my ex and I have children together and for the rest of our lives we will be inextricably connected by them, even though we are not married and therefore technically not a familial unit, we are closer to what the word family means than say me calling my best girlfriend my sister.

So is family a state of mind? At least we get to choose our friends, no such luck when it comes to “family”. But as we age, we do have a say in how much those “family” members we aren’t all that wild about interact with us. My actual family, probably like most families, has a wonderful love hate relationship with each other, most of our relationship is borne out of a familiarity in circumstances, and we connect because we know each other’s stories, really well, we’ve lived together through all the ups and downs life has to offer. And I often wonder if we would be friends if we didn’t share the same womb at some point, or some other blood relation.  I kinda like to think for the most part we would be.

Humans crave other human connection. We truly love the feeling of belonging and our family is our first experience at that, no matter how dysfunctional it is. It’s the underlying deeper understanding of history that connects us and in times of need often what brings us together, even if most of the time we can’t stand each other. I remember once hearing my brother say to a kid on the block “I can punch my brother, but you can’t”.

And as we grow, we expand on the idea of family and like the old nomadic days our “family” begins to consist of more than just blood, it consists of a tribe. In times of need, my “family” comes together, and often that consists of more than just my blood brothers or sisters.  Many of my girlfriends kids call me auntie, even though I’m not their “real” aunt, and you better believe I’d circle the wagons if they called, does that make me family? I think so.

As I struggle with the tension and hostility around my ex and his wife I realized that this state of mind – that I wasn’t part of “their family”, is one of the biggest roadblocks to our relationship even working.  Because at this point we are stuck with each other, sort of like “family”.  We share the responsibility of raising 2 kids together; it’s our job to teach them what family means. Let’s try and show them that a being family is more than just living in a house together. That we won’t always agree or get along, that we may not even like each other, for now, but that when someone needs us, like family, we’re there for them.