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Beyond Bloodlines: Building Your Own Family

 As we grow up and out of our childhoods and on to starting our own lives, it’s so important to continue to grow our families.

The summer between sixth grade and seventh grade, we moved from our intimate cul-de-sac in North Seattle to South Pasadena, a three-and-a-half square mile city just outside of Los Angeles. Besides the obvious culture shock and climate change, we also picked up two housemates, one my mom’s old coworkers, Scott, and his wife, Karla.

My whole life I had been surrounded by blood- and marriage-related family. My mom’s sister and her kids were essentially my siblings and all four of my grandparents and extended family lived within 60 miles of us.

Moving 1,000 miles away to LA where we had only one family member in the area forced us to reach out to others to fill the new family void. The housemates were our first practice and even now, more than ten years after we’ve gone our separate ways, I still consider them family.

I’ve learned that family is more than bloodlines many times since. I’ve adopted mothers and fathers when I craved guidance, sisters for girl to girl support, and brothers because members of the opposite sex can actually be friends, weird. I noticed I’ve done this much more so since I’ve moved out of my parents’ house and gone on to college and my own life.

I think we crave those family ties. I was lucky to grow up in a fairly stable family and yet still I reach out to people who are currently in my life to fill those roles as I’ve moved away from my biological family.

We look for mentors who can act as parents and friends who can be our siblings. It’s amazing to have a system of people wherever you live who support you, care about you, and who can help guide you through your different life phases. These relationships help us feel grounded and like we don’t have to handle things on our own.

These chosen families are incredibly significant.

These are people that we’ve made the conscious decision to include in our life and build a significant bond with. Often there are obligations that come with the family we’re given, including the obligation to love them and keep them in our lives. These permanent ties can be harmful and guilt-evoking and, if broken, can be devastating.

With our chosen family members, there’s not that stress that you’re going to run into them at the next family reunion or feel pressured to visit them even if they are a toxic presence. With chosen family, you can un-choose them. You can cut that toxicity out and not worry that your mom is going to guilt you into at least tolerating them.

As we grow up and out of our childhoods and on to starting our own lives, it’s so important to continue to grow our families. You’re letting them into your life to support you and you in turn support them. You’re building a family network whose members are invite-only.

For me, the friendships that have grown into deeper connections have become some of the most important relationships in my life, especially with the women in my life. It’s the women in my life who I will protect against anything, who I will vent to when I’m frustrated, and with whom I can be my fully real and honest self.

It’s not like I can’t do this with the family I actually sprang from, but it’s different. With blood-related family, there’s often baggage, and that’s just what happens with families.

Cultivating relationships with my family is something I’m definitely working on, especially as my relationships with my parents and siblings grow into adult relationships.

The quote, “Blood is thicker than water” is often misinterpreted to mean that family is the stronger of the two types of relationships. The full quote is actually, “The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb,” meaning the blood pacts we sign with our friends (I mean, I do this with all of my friends, don’t you?) are stronger than family ties. The relationships and bonds we choose are stronger than those we are given and obligated to uphold.

And while I love my family and consider myself lucky for the relationship I do have with my parents and siblings, the friendships that have grown into soul sister-status hold a very important and warm place in my heart.


About the Author

Julie Winsel

With a background in magazine and newspaper publishing with a splash of business-sense, Julie (Eckardt) Winsel is re-pursuing her passion for writing. Now living in Eugene, Oregon, with her husband and cat, she likes vodka-crans and getting caught in the rain.