Chosen versus biological

What makes a family?

An old English proverb states, “The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb.” It implies relationships formed through nonfamilial bonds are more valuable than those of family. 

I tend to agree.

At some point in our lives, the value of things we take as fact changes. That includes money, time and relationships. Sometimes the meaning of these things changes too.

A prime example of the evolution of meaning is the blood and water proverb. Today, we hear the proverb “Blood is thicker than water,” meaning the strongest bond is a familial one. The original proverb’s meaning is a clear opposite. 

Where did this change come from? I believe its shortening is a sign of our evolution as a species much like other changes in language. 

Humans are social creatures who require physical, mental and emotional stimulation from others. Do the people giving stimulation matter to the outcome? I think so.

When families are chosen

How does one know their family? Sometimes it isn’t as simple as the group of people you were born into. (Wendy Erasmus)

I view the relationships I’ve built over my four years at Dalhousie University as my family away from home. My friends are people I can rely on without hesitation. They are people who I know will help and guide me as I aspire to do for them.

When I first pondered the idea of a chosen family, I remembered an argument I read in a Tumblr thread about mothers. It suggested when a couple consciously chooses to have a child, they don’t imagine the child they get. Instead, they imagine a child as an extension of a family unit. Thus, they had chosen their family.

If we follow the concept in that Tumblr thread, all familial relationships (where parents choose to have children) are based on the concept of choice and chosen families. This is where things get tricky because it might be a “chosen family” for the parents, but not for children. 

Children have no say in who their family is until later in life. Not all children grow up in ideal family situations. One shouldn’t be forced to feel grateful to their parents for being born. 

There are no perfect families

Families are seldom perfect. For some kids, siblings are bullies rather than lifelong allies. For others, capital-F families are a support system and a source of love. Does that mean we’re obligated to like, or even love, them? 

Over the last few years, I’ve come to learn that the people who make me feel the least alone are those I’ve chosen to be around. They are the people who don’t look at me skeptically when I tell them what makes me happy. They are the people who fight off that little voice in the back of my head saying I’m not worth the time better than my biological family.

Biological families are the people we’re born to know and live with. Our friends and partners are people we choose to know and live with or around.

We take time out of our days to learn about each other. The shared experience of smiles, shows watched and experiences strengthen the bond of friendship. It isn’t based on some vague idea of obligatory respect. It’s built on mutual respect and admiration gained through mutual appreciation. 

I choose you!

I remember the first time I made a friend on my own when I was nine. Sitting alone in my IT class, a new student was introduced. We had an odd number of students and I was always the last one to be picked. Now in the mix, the new student was the first person I made the conscious decision to be friends with. This relationship felt different than my other friends who were all children of my parents’ friends. 

Not needing to worry if our parents were friends made it easier to choose her as mine. University gives us that option too. We are free to choose, and make mistakes as we choose friends. That way, we discover who makes our hearts sing. 

In the end, any relationship we choose to work on is meaningful, familial or otherwise. Naturally, not every relationship is made to last. How many people from middle and high school have you not spoken to in years, but still are in your phone’s contacts? But those that do last make all the difference.

So yeah, family matters. Whether you’re born into it or not.

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Veena Erasmus

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