I don’t agree with the saying “You can pick your friends, but you can’t pick your family.” I believe in a family by choice.
My daughter once asked me if it was true that you had to love your family. Someone had told her that you didn’t have to like your family, but you had to love them.
I told her that you don’t because I don’t believe someone who is abused by a family member should be expected to love them.
But then I started to think about what makes a family.
People become a family in all sorts of ways – birth, marriage, and adoption are just a few.
But becoming a family is much more than shared DNA or legal paperwork.
Being part of a family is a choice that we make.
Marrying Into a Family
For most of us, the first time we become a family by choice is when we commit to a long-term relationship such as marriage.
Our partner comes complete with an entirely new set of family members.
Most of us choose to become part of our partner’s family. If we are lucky, we grow to love them as much as the family in which we grew up. If not, we grow to tolerate them at family events.
I am blessed with a fantastic set of in-laws that I love as much as my parents and siblings.
However, some people choose never to build a relationship with their in-laws. They decide not to be part of the family.
When Family by Choice is by Adoption
Adding a child to your family through adoption involves a different type of family by choice.
As adoptive parents, you are choosing to bring a child into your home and make them part of your family.
But the child is also making a choice.
It is the strangest things, but even children adopted as babies at some point decide that they are part of the family.
I have seen it happen time and time again in our Korean adoption community, and I saw it in my daughter.
Sometime in the preschool years, they take that final step to commit themselves emotionally to your family fully. Even that young, they have figured out that living with their foster family was temporary, so living with their adopted family may be too.
Then they hit a point where they have fully committed themselves to your family, and there is no turning back. But still, being part of the family was a choice.
Unfortunately, people familiar with adoption all know that the opposite is a real possibility. Many adopted children never choose to become part of their family. Due to early childhood emotional trauma, they have Attachment Disorders and are not able to bond with their family as a healthy child.
Choosing People as Family
There are also many of us that have formed families through friendships and other means.
My parents had a set of close friends that we called Aunt & Uncle. I was a teenager before I bothered to think things through and realize that my Uncle Ron and Aunt Cheri weren’t actually “related” to me.
My Grandma Lucille was part of my family by choice. She was my mom’s stepmother and my grandfather’s second wife. My mom never lived with her. In fact, Lucille and my grandfather lived out-of-state and my mom rarely saw her. It was only after my Mom was an adult that she got to know Lucille better.
My grandpa died when I was only five-years-old. After his death, Lucille and my Mom decided that they were going to remain family forever. And they did. Lucille was twice-widowed, and her son (my mom’s step-brother) never had children. We were her grandkids. And she lived to meet her great-grandkids – my son and daughter.
I have been blessed in many ways by the people who chose to be part of my family. I hope you have too.
Read all 50 pieces of advice I shared in honor of my 50th birthday.