(Featured image description: A family of four are jumping up off the grass while facing the sun. Bright sunlight shines down on them. The shadows of them, and a tree is towards the bottom of the image.)
Some of the most common bits of life advice that is given to people include “Family isn’t always blood,” “choose your family” and “Your friends can become family.” This is something that hasn’t began to fully make sense to me until recently and now so I’d to discuss the following question:
What is the meaning of family?
Some backstory – I have a large family on my dad’s side. I don’t know most of them in part due to the fact that I was never introduced to them in the first place. Of the relatives I did meet, they never really tried to understand me or my autism and in part is why we never maintained a relationship over the years. So essentially one major part of my family is not in my life and this likely won’t change any time soon.
I have many questions though. Who are these people? What lives are they living? Would they be interested in knowing me? Part of me feels lonely and upset at the possibility that these questions may never be answered. As an autistic person, one trait that shows here is my desire to know answers and clarity. Not knowing things means I can’t plan nor can I satisfy my curiosity. There could always be a huge gap missing in my family heritage that I will never find out the answers for.
On the other hand, part of me is relieved. Do I want to deal with the added social dynamics? Any potential drama? What preconceived ideas do they have about me (if any)? Any preconceived notions will be hard to budge. Is it worth disrupting that cycle for the risks of meeting people who may not understand me? This stress and risk/reward gamble isn’t always worth it which is in part why I’ve struggled with friendships and romance.
There is still such a strong emphasis on blood family within society thanks to historical significance – however as time goes by it’s become increasingly less important. It is nowadays more fluid. People now have a lot more choice on who to consider their family and it is not as stigmatised. You can change who you consider family at any time. It’s much easier to cut off toxic relatives compared to before. Plus, thanks to the internet it is easier than ever to find friends whom you have things in common with. This is especially important for autistic/ND people whom may be non-verbal or communicate better via technology.
So back to my original question – what is the meaning of family? In short, people whom I would call family do three things:
- They accept you for who you are
- They try to gain a deep understanding of you
- They are there for you when you need them
Furthermore, I feel that if a deep emotional connection to them is present in addition to the above list then I would argue that they are family. This connection can be platonic and/or romantic.
To conclude, family is such a nuanced topic. How some people define “family” and whom is in it varies and that’s okay. I hope whomever reads this has a family circle that they are happy with. If they are happy by themselves that is okay too. As long as the person themselves is comfortable with whom is in their life that is all that matters. That is the most important thing to remember. For me, I have my current family circle consisting of relatives and friends that get me. It’s not massive but I am happy with this.
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