This time you get to pick
By Abbie Riglin, Photo Editor
Family, by definition, is described as a group of individuals who are “all the descendants of a common ancestor.” In other words, blood related.
From a young age it is expected of us to stay close and rely on the people we share blood with. Our parents are our caregivers, and our siblings are our friends and playmates. On holidays we are expected to hug and kiss aunts and uncles, and let our cousins steal our toys. Even after all this we are expected to love and like them above all else. “It’s just what family does,” they’ll say.
There is also a cultural aspect to staying connected to family, as it is expected of a child to give back to their parents once they come of age by taking on the financial and caregiving roles their parents had while raising them.
But like most things, there are exceptions to the rule. Sometimes parents don’t show up, siblings can be bullies, and aunts and uncles don’t respect personal boundaries. According to a 2020 Stats Canada report, 25 per cent of violent crime victims were abused by a family member.
I became one of these victims at a young age.
I struggled for a long time for who to blame, but I eventually realized that the only person who could be at fault was my abuser, even if they were family.
In recent years, I’ve learned about the concept of chosen family, which is exactly what it sounds like. Instead of following the expectation of respecting blood, I get to choose those who respect me back. I’ve come to the realization that family can be whatever the hell you want it to be.
Before, I lived in fear of not being accepted for who I was. I struggled with aspects of physical touch, and most of all I found it hard to trust people. It hasn’t been until very recently that I have been able to make meaningful emotional connections with people.
But by surrounding myself with a chosen family that respects me and allows me to live without consequences, I have been able to learn what my boundaries are. I’ve allowed myself to realize that I can create them with whoever, including blood related family members.
When I experienced an emotional connection and trusted someone for the first time, it was with my best friend. Truthfully, it was the scariest thing I ever felt. For the first time I was allowed to feel vulnerable and I wasn’t shamed for it. But it spiraled into me becoming a person I was proud of, because allowing yourself to be vulnerable allows you to connect truthfully. For the first time I could open up, I wasn’t scared of getting hurt, and I had love that was unconditional.
This was more than I had ever experienced with many of my blood relatives so naturally I asked myself the question, ‘why can’t I choose my family too?’ It has been a hard journey, but I’ve learned that it’s okay to let go of those who don’t positively affect your life. You may not be able to change your blood, but that’s okay.
My family might look a little different, but for me, my family is intentional. For me, my family is my parents, my sister, my partner and my friends. For me, my family is those who choose to stay.
“We’ve all done this —created our mix-and-match families, our homemade safety nets.”
— David Levithan, Two Boys Kissing