How to build a family (Some assembly required)

There are as many different needs for a Chosen Family as there are families. Some people lose their families, some walk away. Others live far away from their support system and form a new circle with “Friendsgiving” and fun Christmas parties with those ugly ass sweaters. As someone with at least three memoirs worth of family problems, having a Chosen Family is probably the only reason I’ve made it this far. When my Birth Family turned away, my Chosen Family was there to pick me up. And it was through them that I learned unconditional love.

Step one: Become inspired

Growing up with Harry Potter, Friends, and Sex and the City, I watched characters make their own families. I knew it was at least possible. When your Birth Family doesn’t work for whatever reason, there’s another one waiting for you in the wings. And if fictional characters can do it with such ease, it has to be that way in Real Life. Right? I’m usually not wrong, but in this case, I was very incorrect. I realize now I just needed patience, but I’ve never been a patient person. And don’t plan on ever being one.

I used to think the point was to find people like you, your “tribe”. I jumped in and out of friend groups, morphing myself and chipping away bits that didn’t fit. Maybe there was something wrong with me if I couldn’t make anything stick.

Step two: Pass the buck

It’s important to know that Chosen Families find each other. But this is my site, so I’m going to tell you my side of it. My junior year of college, I snatched my first sister. We bonded over shitty rumors and shittier men.

And like regular sisters, we “shared” clothes, and she more or less lived with me my senior year. I even gave her a key. We looked out for each other, and during my senior year, I began to panic and feel guilty about “leaving her” when I graduate. She was the hardest to say goodbye to.

Through my new sister, I found more siblings. Mainly because she would bring them over all of the time. The second sister came in right before senior year. She was sensitive, which was new to me. But she taught me it was okay to be so. It helped that this sister was the Cancer to my Capricorn (sister signs). Out of all of us, she probably has the biggest heart. The three of us siblings hung out almost every night, supporting each other and judging others.

My brother came next. And even though I’m generally wary of men, I did eventually let him in. By the time he came around, so much of me had been locked up. I grew up quick, and while I still had a connection to my inner child and playfulness, he brought it out. Maybe it was through the wrestling, maybe it was the playful namecalling. It also helped he was dating my best friend. We shared several sleepless nights trying to do our homework long after everyone else had retired to bed. Homework turned to jokes and jokes to memes, and there lies the backbone of our relationship. He’s also one of two men allowed to call me out on my bullshit. But only because he’s nice about it.

My youngest sister was a freshman my Senior Year. I had adopted her as my unofficial “little” in the theatre department at the beginning of the year and finalized it that Spring. We were in a show together, and I felt responsible to protect her in some way. I wanted to make sure her first experience was a positive one. I thought it was my job to show her the ropes of college life and the fun unexpected changes college will bring. And while I did to an extent, I’ve probably learned a lot more from her. I always believed age was just a number, and she proved me right.

The final sibling I collected taught me how quickly love can form. By the time I got close to her, I had already decided to move across the country to Seattle. But, sometimes, you meet a person and know they’re someone meant to be in your life and you can trust. My sister is a fiercely loyal woman, and knowing I have someone in my corner who would probably (actually) kill a man for me is a love language I never knew I needed. We bonded watching Girlboss and eatin snacks my estranged church had sent me for finals week.

Step three: Find some good adults

Freshman year of college was rough. When isn’t it? I needed an adult. I needed a mom. With my Birth Family disintegrating, I needed a place to go, a person to go to. I was careful not to call her Mom, especially in front of my mother who had already voiced grievances about me doing it with others in the past. There was also the constant anxiety of “What if I scare any new parents away?” I couldn’t keep a parental figure around for long, so I assumed it was because of something I kept doing. Over time, her title changed from Adult to College Mom, and now sometimes I refer to her as my mom. For all intents and purposes, she has been. When something Big and Bad happened in college, my friends would ask me when I was seeing my Mom.

My Dad was the most difficult for me to acquire. Not because of him, but because I had so many unsuccessful attempts. To quote the gospel of Holly Golightly, they were all Rats and Super Rats. After a while, I convinced myself I didn’t need a father figure. But when he would check up on me, I couldn’t lie to him (and I tried), and eventually, I trusted him until I relied on him like a father. My Dad is the reason I moved to Seattle, suggesting the idea for a fresh start and giving me the courage to do so. When I feel homesick and wonder why I even bothered, I remember that at least he believes I can do it. So I’ll do it for him. He is the other man allowed to call me out on my bullshit. Because he’s nice about it. And I know wouldn’t be able to stop him anyway.

Step four: Love yourself the way your family does

My folks didn’t show up to my graduation, but my parents did, and a month later it was time to move. I felt angry that I had to leave. I had just built this fucking family for myself, and now I had to leave it. Who’s to say they’ll still want me a year from now? What if the love went away because I was out of sight and out of mind? I couldn’t have that happen again. Until very recently, I believed love was something to earn and can, therefore, be taken away. I had to do everything I could to make sure this new love wouldn’t go away. But one homesick night, I realized my Chosen Family’s love was in fact unconditional. It didn’t matter what dumb move I pull or how I change, their love won’t. And my love for them never will either. It was then, at twenty-three, that I realized I had a family.

When something big happens, who are the first people you want to tell? That’s your family.

When you need to tell someone something because you know you’ll never change in their eyes, that’s your family.

They taught me that. Each in their own ways. And I’ll never be able to thank them enough.

My family saved me.

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