Updated: May 24, 2021
Sometimes I forget the eccentric and complicated life I have chosen to walk and am reminded when pieces of my past show up.
I have never really had a traditional nuclear family, although there have been years of my life spent pretending I did. It was always easier to pretend, because it is truly so complicated people’s heads spin in confusion, while politely pretending they understand.
My mother was adopted, so I have “birth” family members and “adopted” family members on her side. I have extra grandparents, aunts, and uncles.
My bio father deeply struggled with addiction and was incapable of being a part of my life after the age of 6.
My mother remarried when I was 7, which meant I added a new step father and three new siblings, in addition to my bio sister.
At 8, my step father adopted me.
At 20, I reconnected with my bio father, who has never remarried or had any other children.
At 22, my mother divorced my adopted father and then at 30, my mother remarried, so I now have another step father and new step sisters.
The fabric of my family is rich and deep, unique and unusual. I have a special relationship with each person and honor the time I have spent with them. My particular family has taught me many things about life and I am deeply grateful for those things.
For those of you with a “normal” family, carry on. For those of you who can relate, perhaps my experience will resonate and give you hope.
Because my family continued to grow and form and add new members, I learned to see family in an open and inclusive way. I learned not to see family as a rigid construct, but a fluid and changing one.
I learned to honor everyone’s growth process and not to judge their change. I saw, firsthand, that life was messy. That adults didn’t “have it all together”. That everyone deserves a lot of compassion and understanding as they grow.
I learned not to look outside myself for my safety and provision. I never relied on the illusion that family was responsible to take care of me and coddle me. I developed resiliency. I learned how to get scrappy and resourceful.
I learned to respect each moment I had. I learned to honor the fragility of relationships and time. I learned that sometimes seasons end, but that endings of chapters only enhanced the value of the content of them. I have learned life is fucking precious.
I learned to defy all the odds. You name any risk factor, and I have it in my background. Addiction, trauma, domestic violence, mental illness - it’s all there. Assessments tell me I am at the highest risk of all kinds of illness and an early death because of my childhood experiences. I am healthy and vibrant and free, no matter what the damn paperwork says.
This weekend, I got to spend some cherished time with my bio dad. I will never get the years back I missed with him, but I will cherish every opportunity I get to enjoy him now. I didn’t get to know him as a father but I get to find joy in his friendship and it’s always an adventure finding new similarities that give away our biological connection.
If you are ashamed of the family you came from or you’ve been told your family is “broken”, I challenge you to stop allowing that to be your truth. Your family is not broken. Your family is EXACTLY how it is meant to be. Learn from it. Grow from it. Let it stretch and expand you. Enjoy its complexity and depth. And don’t let anyone else tell you how it is “supposed” to be.