Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Family of Choice

I've been looking for something to write about and kick off April on this here blog. Today, I found a topic. I just happened to read about Ashley Judd's memoir on Jezebel. Judd wrote,

It as then that I discovered we all belong to two families: our family of choice and our family of origin. My family of choice is a colorful assortment of surrogate grandparents, aunts, uncles, and friends who infuse me with love, belonging, and acceptance. My family of origin, the one into which I was born, was also brimming with love but was not a healthy family system.
This statement speaks to me and is a concept which I was recently discussing with some coworkers. What I've been saying for a while is that my friends are the family I chose. The concept of multiple close relationships with family members is, sadly, foreign to me. I can't pinpoint one reason or another why I am not close to my family, but there are a few certain contributing factors including mental illness and abuse. My grandmother was a hugely important part of my life, but I have long felt that when she passed, my concept of family fell apart. You can even get that feeling when you check out what I said on my Live Journal as a 17 year old who just lost her. And while I have been warmly welcomed into Ronald's family, and I feel a part of them, it's just not the same, ya know?

I guess what I really wanted to talk about with this post, however, is a gentle reminder to those of you who have strong family connections. Please remember that your experience is not universal. As Judd mentioned in her interview on Today this morning, there are many of us who have survived child abuse. While her experience is centered on surviving incest, (something I did not encounter growing up) the reminder is a good one to emphasize because of all types of abuse.

Our society is rather focused on the concept of family. How often do people say things like "blood is thicker than water" or that they would do anything for their family or that their mom is their best friend, so on and so forth? There's nothing inherently wrong with being focused on "family values," but I do think that there is a problem in assuming that simply because someone is related to you they are more deserving of your love than other people.

For me, how someone treats me is infinitely more critical than their relationship to me. Here's an example. Say you have a sister who continually verbally abuses you (puts you down and makes fun of your looks, body, what you say, how you dress, intelligence, your relationship with your partner, etc.). But you also have a best friend who is the most caring, compassionate person in the world. Your wedding comes around and you choose your best friend to be your maid of honor instead of your sister.

Some people would be horrified by this concept. They would insist that "at the end of the day all you have is family." But in my mind, this is ultimately the right choice. I'm not saying you should terminate your relationship with your sister, or that you shouldn't work to improve it, but the fact of the matter is that she is a toxic person in your life and doesn't deserve this place of honor simply because you came from the same uterus.

To those who say things like "at the end of the day all you have is family" and "family comes first" I would argue that you probably have an amazing family, and for you, this is deserved and true. But please, understand that your experience is not universal.

It's not worth it to look down on those of us who don't hold family in this regard, because you do not have the understanding of what our experience has shown us.

I do have high hopes, for my own little family, however. The start of it (Ronald and myself) is doing pretty great so far and when I define family in those terms, then I can say that yes, family absolutely does come first.

1 comment:

  1. Funny thing about the saying "Blood is thicker than water" is that that's not actually the full phrase. The full phrase was ACTUALLY "The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb", referring to blood shed during battle. The phrase actually means that one has a stronger bond with those they've gone through a struggle with than their relatives.


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