My family is… complicated.
We’re not complicated because of one BIG thing. Our complications are a tapestry of small experiences and shared secrets.
Like that time my parents and siblings and I were living in a homeless shelter and some family members drove through town but didn’t say anything because it was awkward and then we didn’t talk to them for a couple years but then that was awkward so now we all just kind of act like that didn’t happen. Even though it did…
Or the million and one times when I was a kid and my parents decided it was time for something new and we would all pile into the car with a backpack of our most prized possessions (to this day, I pack light as hell, y’all) and hope and wish that that new place would treat us kindly but knowing that even if it didn’t, we had each other and what was that.
Or when I got married and had to stop thinking of my mamma as my one and only partner in crime (because she had been for so long) and start including my husband in that equation, only that was way more complicated than I thought it would be and I sorta made a mess of it. Like all the time.
Which essentially all boils down to the fact that my family is… complicated. Or maybe I should say that my understanding of my family is complicated.
Husbands. Presidents. And margaritas.
Maybe that’s because for a long time, I thought that the term “family” referred to a group of folks who I entered this world claiming kinship to, and that this kinship was eternal and unchanging. There were certain people who had already made the cut – whether they deserved it or not.
In recent years though, I’ve decided to rethink this definition, to both expand and contract my definition of “family” in accordance with a grown woman’s perspective of who I do and do not want in my inner circle.
(That’s right y’all. I figure if I’m grown enough to chose my my husband, my president, and my alcoholic beverage of choice, then I’m grown enough to choose he folks who I consider family as well.)
Given family vs. chosen family
These days I like to imagine that if you were to gather my entire, immediate family into one selfie, it might be almost as epic as the one that Ellen took at the Oscars. While it wouldn’t rival in terms of star power (I’m still waiting for someone to tell me that Denzel is my long lost uncle – I’ll keep you posted), we’ve definitely got her in terms of diversity.
In fact, take nothing but me my sisters into account, and between the seven of us, we represent African-American, Ethiopian, Italian, Chinese, Egyptian, and Native American heritages.
None of us are adopted and no, we are not the most mixed raced family since, ever. (I’ve got the kinky ass afro to prove it!)
In fact, only two of the “sisters” I’m referring to are connected to me by blood. The other five were not born my sisters and yet over the course of the last ten years, each one of them has earned the title many times over.
In lieu of parentage, we are related via tear stained heartbreaks, and drunken college memories; shared secrets and whispered words of comfort and care. God didn’t choose us to be sisters. We chose each other.
We get it from our mamma(s)
The practice of “choosing family” is honestly nothing new. As black and brown women, most of us are intimately familiar with the practice of mixing our blood relatives with our chosen ones.
You know that “auntie” who, in real life, is your mom’s roommate from college? Or all those “cousins” you see every Thanksgiving whose link to the family no one can quite explain?
During slavery, African-Americans were forced to construct a much more fluid understanding of “family” than their white American counterparts.
With husbands being sold away from their wives and children from their parents, your family became the people who claimed you as their own; the people who would feed you, clothe you, and be counted on to tell you when you were acting a damn fool.
And that matters. Because then, as is now, the practice of choosing family was no mere formality; rather, it was a matter of emotional and spiritual survival.
Even a STRONGBLACKWOMAN needs a support system
A close knit network of people who have shown that they love us and have our best interest at heart is crucial, even for the most independent among us.
They are crucial not just for the obvious reasons (people to watch Scandal with every Thursday night, duh) but also because these tend to be the people who are able see things in us that we don’t even see in ourselves.
And for those folks who we are related to in name only? Well…
Out with the old, in with the new
I’ll leave you with one final radical notion: Everyone in your family should love you and you should love everyone in your family.
Let me say that one more time (‘cuz y’all know I come from a long line of Southern Baptist preachers and we believe in repeating the good stuff): Everyone in your family should love you and you should love everyone in your family.
You may not love them all in exactly the same way and the way they express their affection for you might be equally complex but at the very heart of the matter is the fact that you’re grown. And if you want it, you have the power to choose who makes it into your inner circle. You get to choose who you call your family.
And it’s ok to make folks earn the title.
About The #MyTherapy Campaign
The #MyTherapy campaign was started by InSight Bulletin, a wellness blog that specializes in helping people cope with the stresses and challenges of everyday life.
The campaign focuses on self activated happiness/emotional well being that we can sometimes find within our family and friends, thus seeking therapy and mental wellness is a normal behavior we can find simply by spending time with those we love.
My #MyTherapy moment = visiting Grandma Coleman at the hospital a couple weeks ago. View on Instagram.
This post was orginially posted at coloredgirlconfdiential