I think about family all the time: What makes someone family; how we define our own family; how big a role blood plays in that equation; what we forgive, accept, overlook, take pride in; how our perceptions are altered by love. And whether we look to our parents, our siblings, our aunts and uncles and cousins, or closer even, to our children, we find these commonalities on the idea of family.
Today, November 6th, is ‘family day’ for my husband and my kids and myself. It’s the day we welcomed home our oldest, after a long and winding journey (his from South Korea and ours from infertility). It’s a day we recognize for our immediate family, but one also that brings fond memories of our extended family, those who made the trip with us that day and for the many years before, as well as those we wished had been there. We were given advice by our social worker (who was wonderful) to bring only a couple of people with us. “You don’t want to be overwhelmed or overwhelm your baby.”
Perhaps this is good advice for some families. Not for ours. We had 14 people with us, and in hindsight, I wish we’d had 30. At least. Inclusion. I don’t imagine there’s great regret in including, but there is in excluding.
So, back to families. What I’ve learned, is that:
Family has little to do with blood, though ancestry is fascinating. Some of those I’ve loved the most, spent holidays, vacations and celebrations with, and with whom I’ve shared the most of my life, are disconnected by blood. They are family by choice, by circumstance, by proximity, by time and experience rather than by blood and ancestry.
While our greatest joy comes from those whom we love, so too does our greatest pain. Childhood experiences scar, and though those scars may heal, their impressions are always there, altering the DNA of both parties. With pain comes growth, empathy and compassion. On the day that we welcomed our baby home, his foster mother had to say goodbye, and his birth mother before her. Our joy could only be born of their anguish.
Accepting someone for who they are is the greatest expression of love, even as we acknowledge the hurt they cause themselves. I remember my father’s joy when he met my Stephen and found out we were planning to get married. His face betrayed trust, relief and true happiness. I dated a few toads and my father let me deal with the consequences of those relationships, never criticizing or judging, but also never getting too close. He was always there when things fell apart. He trusted my decisions and let things play out, and he found great joy in his newest son-in-law. And more than a little relief.
Love is always worth the loss. It doesn’t always feel this way. But it is. Always.
Family, regardless of how it is created and how we define it, is our greatest gift both to ourselves and to those we love. I cherish the memory of the day we brought our son into our lives, altering all those whose lives he’s touched.