This word is a word that there is no clear-cut definition for because the family doesn’t always mean there is blood involved. There are many types of families in the world. Some are by blood, while others are by choice. Some families are estranged because of the actions and attitudes of the people who dwell inside those circles. I have an excellent friend who has a volatile relationship with her family because she is not part of what they think their family should be. I’ve experienced firsthand feeling shunned by the family because I wasn’t an overachiever throughout much of my life. I had to learn what was important to me because they weren’t the ones living my life – I was.

Over the years, I’ve adopted friends as family. My reasons were and are simple. I grew up as an only child and keeping my friends as a family is like having many brothers and sisters. Sometimes my family of friends has grown while other times; it has shrunk. That doesn’t mean that I’m unwilling to let others into my life. But it does mean that relationships change and evolve. The people you think will be in your life forever might not be for various reasons. Our relationships give us perspectives that we never thought we’d face.

I’ve often said that I love my family, but there are members I don’t like. Perhaps it stems from the way I see them value certain things. I see them focused on a six-figure income while raising their kids in the suburbs. They belong to country clubs and have multiple vehicles. Their idea of success is how much money you make and the power you wield. The notion of volunteer work appeals to them to make them look good and not represent who they are. Their logic is different from mine. I see opportunities to make the world a better and stronger place. People are at the heart of change, and differing views make for growth. Preferences are the crux behind what motivates and drives one another. Weaknesses have the power to become strengths, while strengths can either be sharpened or weakened within the family dynamics. We all have people in our lives that change us for better or worse. Losing links to toxic people isn’t always a bad thing.

People have the power to evoke thoughts and feelings within each other. We can make others feel as if they possess power, or we can make them feel invisible. My non-family blood family has given me strength when I’ve been weak and knocked me down a peg or two when I’ve been full of myself. They are the ones that tell it like it is and don’t hold back.

There are people in my life I once considered family and are now ghosts to me. These groups of folks used me for everything they could. When the money and assistance ran dry, they disappeared. It wasn’t a good feeling. I rarely hear from them now, and if I do, it’s usually for something they want.

My biological family has gifted me with unconditional love. By this, I mean my parents bestowed unselfish love to raising me. When I acted up, they loved me even though I disappointed them. When others didn’t want me anywhere around, they still made me feel loved. When I did well, they did their best to support me without trying to pressure me to live up to their expectations. My grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins taught me what it meant to be part of an extended family. No matter what I did in life, I put more pressure on myself than my family. Isn’t that the way things go sometimes? We put labels on what we can and can’t do. We perceive something to be specific ways because we are too afraid to voice ourselves to others, and when we do, ignite tempers. Sometimes we choose our family by choice because our family members treat us like lepers. This scenario happened with my friend. She battles manic depression and mental illness while her stepfather and half-sister treat her like a dog kicked. Their actions make it impossible for her mother and her to have a relationship.

I’ve seen many kids in schools join gangs and other groups to feel validated within a family. Society talks a good game about wanting to keep kids out of trouble, but many parents often feel forced to choose between keeping a roof over their family’s heads and being there for the kids. I’ve seen too many families struggle with trying to be all things to everyone. So many people are stretched thin, and the expectations continue to pile. Some parents start leaning on neighbors, friends, and family to help when they feel overwhelmed. Over time, their relationships either get stronger or weaker. But there is one constant that remains – they become a type of family.

Foster kids long for families. Some of them get lucky, while others don’t. Unless you’ve been in the system, you can not possibly imagine what goes on in their world. I don’t begin to understand what they deal with daily. I have a close friend adopted by a loving family years ago. She tells me horror stories from some of the foster families before finding a good fit. Some of those kids become families because they stick together in a broken system.

Families come in different forms, and it’s challenging to break those bonds when solidified by circumstance, blood, or perception. No matter who you may consider family, I hope you cherish the time you have with them. I would love to have another day with my Dad, but that’s impossible now. What isn’t impossible is being there for others that may need an ear. Lending a hand when others need help getting up is another way that families get stronger. We all need people in our lives at times that are challenging. Families grow and shrink in numbers but love never fades. Today, I hope that you can enjoy your family by doing something with them. You never know what life will throw at you. I hope you all have a great Thursday.

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