Choose Your Family

People always say you can’t choose your family. I have heard many a disgruntled relative or frustrated parent say this over the course of my lifetime.

I disagree.

You can choose your family. You just can’t choose your relatives. Once you are related to someone, by blood or marriage or adoption or whatever, you can’t get rid of that association. They are your relative, but they may not be your family.

I googled the definition of family just now and at first found a couple of things that are more in line with what I would call relatives, but I also found a few definitions that I really loved:

A group of objects united by a significant shared characteristic.
A group of people united in criminal activity.

If anything, we really should be choosing our families based on the latter definition. Who would you want in your circle if you were robbing a bank or running a drug cartel? I like the first definition though, which has roots in biology, because it goes back to that idea of surrounding ourselves with people who share our core values and beliefs.

The definition of a relative is a person connected by blood and marriage.

In my last post, I brought up this notion we have that we’re supposed to keep all of our relatives in our close circles simply because they are related to us. I really want to challenge this line of thinking because I don’t think any of us should feel guilty for who we have close relationships with and who we don’t, regardless of whether or not they’re related to us. I think we also need to make the distinction that just because people may not be in our closest circles doesn’t mean we don’t love them, appreciate them, and support them in their own lives.

I have relatives that I have lived close to my whole life, and relatives that live in other states. The distance between us does not determine how close our relationships are. I only see my California-residing relatives every couple of years and I don’t really keep in touch with them other than Facebook, but when my family goes down to California or they come up to Oregon we have a blast. I love them just as much as my Oregon-residing relatives.

But I did not invite them to my wedding. Why? Well, partly because I was only engaged for six months leading up to my wedding (not a lot of time for people to make travel plans) and my husband and I decided that we did not want to wait a year to get married (which would have given us more time to plan, save money, and invite more people). I didn’t want to make anyone feel bad if they couldn’t go due to the short notice. And we wanted a small, intimate wedding (which is really impossible unless you elope, but we did pretty well).

The main reason, though, was because my husband’s family did not go to our wedding. My Oregon-residing relatives all know my husband, so I knew that having them there would make him feel supported. I was worried that having all of my extended family there, especially all of the people he’d never met, would make the absence of his own family hurt even more (a special thank you to the Evers family members who were there to support Kevin on our wedding day – we love you!).

My point is that I did not allow myself to feel the pressure to invite all of my relatives (and friends) because I knew that they would understand and they wouldn’t take it personally and even if it hurt their feelings a little, they’d get over it. Because we are all adults and we have to make the choices that are right for us. And we shouldn’t have to feel all of this guilt and pressure over making everybody else happy.
It’s impossible, really, so why not focus on our own happiness?

Surround yourself with people who love and support you, who share your core values and beliefs.

These people might be your relatives, they might be your close friends, they might be a mix of both. I, personally, am very close with my parents and brothers and couldn’t imagine our relationship being any different. But it could very well have been different if my parents were toxic, if my life was different growing up. And that could be your story. You should not feel the need to keep people in your close circle if they are toxic or if they bring you down. Sound familiar? I’ve said it before, and the point is that it doesn’t matter if they are related to you. The same rule still applies.

Understand that people change, and your close circle might change over the years.

I remember being a kid and being so close with my cousins. I loved going to family gatherings and hockey games and hanging out with them. I still love them all to pieces, and it’s great to see them on holidays and birthdays. It’s great to watch them grow into young adults, but our relationship is not the same as it was ten years ago. And that’s okay. They have their own friends and they’re growing into these unique human beings, and they know that I will be there when I can to support them. And who knows, maybe in the future we’ll have that really close relationship again.

Also understand that some people don’t change, and you may have to leave them behind.

When we’re little kids, we have this unconditional love for family members, relatives, close friends, and that stems from knowing that our parents love these people and trust these people to be around us. As we grow up, we form our own opinions about these people we’re surrounded by and that unconditional love starts to fade. It’s not that we stop loving people, we just start noticing their quirks and their flaws and their personalities. And we start to figure out who we like spending time with. I encourage you to let your kids do this. Let them decide which family members, relatives and friends they enjoy being around. This doesn’t mean they get to be rude to everyone else, but they do get to have their own opinions and share them, when appropriate. We don’t live in the children must be seen, not heard era anymore. Plus, I guarantee they won’t be any more rude than their druncle (drunk uncle) is at any family gathering.

Ultimately, you have to do what is right for you.

Only you know the ins and outs of your relationships. You get to decide who is in and who is out. This isn’t some high school clique, this is your life, and you do get to decide who is involved in it.

Choose the people that make you happy and reduce your stress.

They’re your family.

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