"If it comes between choosing your family or your husband, you choose your husband."
~as told to me by my mother, Sara
I didn't really understand this statement when my mother said it to me when I was a teenager. I mean, I understood it in the sense that she had survived a horribly abusive childhood and that marrying my father was certainly a means for her to remove herself from the pain and dependence of her family, but as a 17 year old with my immediate family being the only thing I knew at that age, it took me until I was well into my twenties before I really understood just how important this statement is, and as I continue to age, that message becomes reinforced for me time and time again.
My whole life, I've struggled with my relationship with my family, both immediate and extended. I've never felt accepted, understood or much liked for that matter or really that anyone in my family really wanted to take the time to really know who I was. They still think they know me, however in reality, they haven't a clue...
In my twenties, I was terribly affected by those strained relationships and I tried to "fix" them through writing letters to my parents and later to my extended family in the hopes of rebuilding that sense of kinship and loyalty. I always wanted that huge family that would gather at holidays and actually enjoy each other's company and while it may have been a projection from my Norman Rockwell inspired diary when I was a girl, it still spoke to something deep within me that I had craved and which had never been satisfied.
Of course my letters never made any difference . If anything, they mostly became fodder for derisive interactions that usually plagued our family get-togethers. Each time I was with my family, I felt alone, mocked, disappointed and ultimately, very sad. Finally, in my mid-twenties, I learned that there was nothing that I was going to be able to do to independently change my family's dynamic, so for my own sake, I started down a different path and made different choices. I tweaked my mother's advice to read from then on...
If you have to choose between your family and yourself, you choose yourself...
I started university with my toddler daughter in tow and I began on a journey of creating that thing to which I wanted to be a part of. I began to live another quote which my mother had shared with me when I was just twelve. I began to live being ultimately true to myself. I became more introspective, more genuine, more vulnerable and decided then that I would only surround myself with people that were of the same mindset. Not to say that throughout the rest of my twenties I didn't get sidelined, make bad decisions, trust the wrong people and continue to lie to myself periodically, but for the most part, I worked to stay that course. I loved well the people that were in my life and brought a sense of positive progress to it as well, and those that drained me of my life blood, I worked to eliminate from my every day and that included my family for a long, long time.
I remember my best Christmas dinner ever. I was surrounded with my daughter and ten other people in my dining room, not one of them I was related to, but each one of them I referred to as my chosen kin. They were friends that loved me, supported me, engaged me and equally chose me to be a part of their lives. It was joy. They brought me joy. They brought me love and acceptance and I strove to do the same for them. Not all those people are still in my life, but most of them are and I still consider them dear, dear friends.
At different times throughout my twenties I met three people that were to completely define that notion of chosen kin for me. I know them each from entirely disparate circumstances. They are my three closest friends and in each one of them, I find tremendous love, absolute acceptance and unwavering support (even when I'm wrong, they're still on my side, just like family's supposed to be). We've had our ups and downs, as does any relationship, but these three souls know that without fail, I love them and will do anything that I can to support them as they would equally do for me. I am unbelievably grateful for them and they are part of my family.
It was the foundation of these three relationships that enabled me to once again choose wisely and choose to marry my best friend, my husband. My choice. My chosen kin. With him, we have created a life, surrounded with and based on a tremendous love. A love that we chose and a life that we continue to choose in spite of the valleys, because we seek those peaks together. And through him, I have also found that huge family that gathers, loves and enjoys one another's company. He and our children are my chosen kin. Along with my closest friends, they are the ones that I choose to live with, the ones that I choose to turn to and the ones that I find my greatest joy from.
So now, at almost forty years old, I still find myself having to make choices about my happiness. I believe that It is through making choices that people find their greatest happiness and the lives that fulfil. Those disappointing and strained relationships still sadden me greatly, however, that pain is mitigated by the buoyancy I feel from those that I have chosen and who have chosen me. So, I will continue to choose the people and the paths that bring that happiness to me and forgo those that simply don't.
And now as one of these closest friends and his spouse are in the midst of adopting a six year old boy, choosing their kin and expanding their family, my joy abounds. There aren't two more deserving people than they, and I am ecstatic for them and selfishly for the fact that my chosen kin, my family is growing and that I am going to be an Auntie again.