Family Is a Choice

The best thing about going to a bar is that you’ll likely hear a stranger’s story. Yesterday, I heard someone I’d never met before explain how she and her mom became alienated from the rest of their extended family.

“They’re all from the same region, and some 10 years back, we went to a family gathering. Nobody would even come and talk to us. They stick to themselves. No outsiders tolerated.” Her mom became an outsider when she married someone from another state, and so after that one, very awkward event, they never saw any of their relatives again. “They always say you can’t choose your family, but actually, you can.” As I know from experience, you can also choose someone not to be your family, regardless of whose blood flows in their veins.

Think back to a school class you once were part of. How many kids were you? 15? 20? 30? Take any group of a dozen humans or more, and the odds are near-100% there’s one person in there you won’t like. Why shouldn’t the same apply to any extended family? However, that someone you consider a black sheep has family too — and whether they agree with your assessment or not, they must deal with them on a daily basis. Unless they decide not to, of course.

It is a great privilege to be born into a family you’ll still proudly describe with that therm 30 years later. Not everyone is so lucky, and not everyone realizes they can reshuffle the deck genetics handed them either. It’s a hard-won lesson, and in the short term, the pain of falling out with folks often feels greater than the long-term ties to a tribe that weighs you down. Years later, we’ll pay the bill either way.

Like brushing teeth, going to work, and being kind, family is a choice we make every day. Don’t make that choice lightly, and don’t let anyone tell you there are no other options. For anyone who really needs it, family can be found anywhere — even in a bar halfway around the world from where you were born.