Five years ago this week, I arrived home with my youngest child. Instead of a newborn coming home from the hospital, the newest addition to my family was a 3 year old from Xiamen, China who joined our family through adoption. I sometimes have people ask why I would adopt if I could have biological children, and the answer to me is simple- the best family is the one you choose to create, not one defined by marriage or biology.
I think we get fooled into believing there is importance in having a genetic link. Not that having a biological child is a bad way to create or add to a family. I have three biological children I’m immensely thankful for, and I’m glad I was able to experience getting to know them even before they were born. But my youngest is every bit as much my child even though I wasn’t able to raise her for her first 3 years. When people meet my kids, I think they often look for similarities between the three that are biologically related. But the likenesses are literally only skin deep. Three kids on the outside resemble each other because of a common genetic background. Past that, each of the four kids is a completely unique individual, each one different and incredible in their own way. And all four share commonalities that transcend heredity and even race.
And it’s become very clear to me the last few years that family shouldn’t be limited by biology, marriage, or even adoption, but should include adding to your family through extraordinary friendships. I have a friend who I have known for more than 30 years but has become a sister to me in the last three. I have supported her and she has supported me through some very difficult and dark times. She loved me and encouraged me when I was feeling unloved and unlovable. We have shared experiences that have created a lasting bond, and a lack of a genetic link doesn’t do anything to diminish that connection.
For many years I wanted to look perfect: perfect employee, perfect wife, perfect daughter, perfect mom, perfect friend. But the reality is I’m not perfect. Life is messy and unpredictable, and rarely goes according to the plan you had. I did a disservice to me and the people around me by trying to appear perfect. Because I wasn’t real about some of the challenges going on in my world, I couldn’t develop relationships that were deep and honest. I handled everything myself, because in my world there was no one to lean on- I could never let anyone come close enough to see the cracks in my “perfect” life.
I’m in the process of re-defining some areas of my life, and that includes re-defining family for me. The process that started with adding to my family through adoption has evolved to adding to my family through friendship. Biology is not the glue for my family. Acceptance is. If you choose to embrace me- the real me, the flawed me, the imperfect me- then I can’t wait to give you a spot in my “family tree”. I’m learning and growing, and as a result hopefully constantly changing for the better. I need my family tree to be full of people who encourage me on that journey.
I’m so thankful to see some of the new names on the branches of my tree, and even more grateful to see my name on the branches of other people’s trees. The tree of my past created by traditional means- birth, marriage, adoption, is still there, some branches flourishing although other branches have been cut back. But the tree I’m now creating, incorporating both long-standing and new branches? I can’t wait to see how this one grows.