I was thinking about my family today. The sun was shining, we were enjoying a beautiful day out, and I thought to myself “wow, what a lucky bunch we are”. Lucky because we are happy and healthy, and lucky because we are together. In this particular moment when I was thinking about my family, I was only really thinking of the four of us. I wasn’t thinking about the rest of the family we have. Then this evening, while I was sipping my tea, I got to thinking about what the word ‘family’ really means to me. Has its meaning changed now that I am a mother? What does it mean to me and anyone else who may be living far away from their relations? What does it mean to people who don’t have any relatives?
If you happen to look in the dictionary, you will see that the word Family is described as; “a basic social unit consisting of parents and their children, considered as a group, whether dwelling together or not”. This explanation doesn’t cover the extended family, the grandparents, uncles, aunts, great grandparents, all the other people we often refer to as family.
When you live away from your family, you very quickly feel the need to attach yourself to others. I guess this is the survival instinct embedded deep inside us all. We like to be around people, we like to be in groups. So how do we cope without having our family near? How do people get through tough times without their relatives? Am I just a very lucky person to have a family that I have become so reliant on?
It’s true, I am very close to my family. Before I moved to Australia, I would speak to my parents on the phone every day, often more than once. I would regularly talk to my brother, my grandparents, god parents, and my cousins. I may not have been calling for any particular reason, maybe just to connect, to let them know I was thinking about them, and sometimes to just ask mum to give me a hand with the pile of ironing sat in the basket! This is what you suddenly miss when you move away.
I can honestly say, I rarely considered just what I got from my family, until they were no longer within arm’s reach. They were a huge part of our existence until we couldn’t easily pop in and out of each other’s lives. Then suddenly, when we were separated, I began to feel a little perplexed, maybe even anxious, lost and I hate to say it…. alone. All those times I have called on my brother because he turns everything into a positive, all the times I have asked for help from my mother, because she never says it’s too much trouble, and suddenly it was just us four. This is when it hit me. This is when we truly needed to rely on our very new friends, like we would our family.
Moving abroad means we are far away from all those last minute helping hands, we’re far away from the ‘Grandparent time’ our children used to love, it’s all the little things we miss, and all these things we needed to find in someone else. So, not only have we had to build our new lives, we have had to go out and find our new family. We all need that group, those special people we are close to, we bond with and who we can turn to, no matter what. Now we’re asking our friends to help us in times of need, we look to them when we need someone to have the children for an hour, and for emotional me, I use their shoulders when I shed a tear, and I talk to them when I simply need someone to listen.
It’s often said that you can choose your friends but not your family; I’m not sure I agree entirely. When it comes down to being on your own, without the rest of your family, your friends very quickly become much, much more than just friends. They quickly become incredibly special to you. They become your new family. So, we did get to choose our family. We got to choose the people who we spend our precious weekends with, who we share meals with, who we depend on when we have an emergency, and the people we look to when we need comfort. We have chosen the people we trust to look out for our children, who we trust to care for them in the same way we do. This is our 2nd family.
You don’t have to move 10 thousand miles away from your relatives to have a second family; I am pretty sure at some point you’ve thought, “Sarah is like a sister to me” or “gosh I don’t know what I would have done without James over the past year”. We all have those friends, those special people that become family to us, when our real relatives are not available, not close enough, or sadly just not around anymore. This is what family really is. It doesn’t have to be blood; it doesn’t have to be all about your standard family trees. If we love them, if we feel safe with them, if we know they have our back, that’s what family is; whether we share a name or not, that’s what makes a family. That’s what family means to me. I guess what I am trying to say to you is; when you think of your family, when you record all your tales and share all your photos, don’t whatever you do, forget those special family members; the ones you have chosen, the ones who have chosen you; the ones who won’t be on that ‘family tree’.