The word family is often used to describe the people who make up our ‘blood’ family; our parents, children, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, with the list becoming even more extensive if you include second cousins, third cousins and so forth. When I was growing up there was a list of unspoken rules of engagement between me and my relatives. I often received envelopes with money and a card for my birthday and then again at Christmas, with little to no contact in between. There might be a phone call when someone received results for school exams, and we would occasionally see our relatives in person around Christmas time too. As I grew older, I would contact my cousins via Facebook for their birthdays, but this was more of a one-way ‘comment’ than an actual conversation, and similarly phone calls would often be kept short when I called my grandparents for their birthdays too.
It became apparent as I developed more of an understanding of what true family meant through the development of other relationships in my life, that the arrangements I had made with my relatives were based on function rather than love, and some were actually heavily laced with comparison. I recall a message from one of my cousins on our shared exam results day where the whole text was, “What did you get?”. This is the first time he had ever texted me privately, and it made me consider whether the word ‘family’ was really fitting of this relationship, but equally how in the past I had compared against the successes of my cousins at school and that because they were my ‘family’ this behaviour had somehow been permitted and encouraged by particular uncles and grandparents as ‘healthy’.
Throughout my childhood and early teenage years there was one grandparent who I did always adore seeing. She made a point of not just phoning on ‘occasions’ but keeping in touch with me and my sister and what was happening in our lives; we would go to see her a couple of times a year just to catch up. When we chatted, there was a richness to our conversations, a transparency in what was shared and a love which was not limited to us saying the right things or impressing with accolades but instead celebrated us as we expressed ourselves more as young women. Enter the true meaning of family…
True family = unconditional love. Yes, that means love without conditions.
I have been blessed to have lived with and grown up alongside people who I can say without a doubt love me unconditionally, and this is where I can say I have established an understanding of what family really means. This includes some biological family but also friends, the team I work with day in day out and many other people who I am connected to in the community. Their unconditional love has never meant money at Christmas nor have we ever exchanged ‘niceties’, but something so much deeper and grander.
Firstly, their love has been consistent. Throughout my entire life I have felt backed by them, they have always asked me how I really am and checked in to see how I feel – answers like “I’m good thanks” have been banned, as an opportunity to express honestly and seek or give support has never been wasted.
Secondly, the love I’ve felt has come with no judgement. During my teenage years I experienced periods of feeling very far away from myself and deliberately choosing not to change or see where I was at. I have never ever been shouted at, had an argument with my family or been met with even the slightest bit of annoyance or impatience. These periods have not gone unaddressed, however it has always been a ‘pull up’ and reminder of the importance of holding true to my values and never a condemnation. Equally, if at any point the standards of the house or relationship were disrespected, there were clear consequences.
A great example is that within my household and workplace (which has always felt like my second home), lying has always been an absolute no, and no matter what was going on the standard was that we were to be honest about it. When I was younger, lying meant more obvious consequences such as loss of technology or limits on when you could go out with friends, but as I got older it became more simple – there was a high level of respect and trust that could be lost by gambling with dishonesty. Often, upholding the sacredness of these relationships and the home was what brought me out of a spin, which would often begin at school where there wasn’t the same quality and set standards.
Another important point to emphasise further is that true family and the love that this encompasses is not based on a picture or fixed ‘people’, but by quality.
There have been moments where someone I’ve met for the first time absolutely represented what a true sister, brother, aunt, uncle, grandpa or grandma means to me. This was not based on being ‘blood related’ or the amount of time that I’d known them, but the quality of our interaction. There are many people in my community who I look up to and make up a crucial part of my family, for example some of the ‘regulars’ who visit my workplace have inspired me with their virtues and values, given me guidance and shown me a quality of wisdom that I have an enormous respect for.
Therefore, my family could include anyone at any given time, and this is based on an energetic quality or vibration and the upholding of these truly sacred standards. A list doesn’t need to be drawn up of ‘what it means to be true family’ because these are the natural qualities of being in relationship: transparency, honesty, willingness to love without conditions and a willingness to be loved. These are the foundations of a true family.