What does family mean to me?

It’s no secret that I was abandoned by the man who fathered me, whilst I was still a tiny mass of cells in the womb. When my mum gave birth at 28 weeks with me weighing just 2lb 10oz, she did it alone.

My father has at least 3 other children, two he had with a wife, and another one of me, born out of wedlock and cast aside as a mistake.

I never really respected (I say respected as opposed to understood, because I still don’t understand) the magnitude of what it must be like to be a single mother, until I became a mother myself. I became a mother with a solid partner, I’m becoming a mother of two with a husband. I have no idea what it’s like to parent solo, and hopefully I’ll never have to find out but I have nothing but admiration for my mum and the many other mothers that have no choice but to face the challenges parenting brings on their own as well as the ones who choose to.

We can be a bit of a dysfunctional family to be honest. In a conventional way. For whatever reason I’ve drifted from extended family over the years. I don’t have close relationships with my aunt and uncle, and very few of my cousins. My sister and I couldn’t be more different. There’s ten years between us and she had a different upbringing to that of my own, but we are close and I love her to bits. My mum and I are best friends but we do clash occasionally, when we do it’s a head on collision. That said I don’t know what I would do without her. We communicate with each other very well and have a mutual respect, as well as a deep and unconditional bond.

My husband is quite a quiet man, unless he’s had a drink (which isn’t often) when he becomes a bit of a clown. He doesn’t stress about lack of closeness to family or friends, where as I keep mine really close and feel absence like it’s abandonment. He is reserved with his feelings, but doesn’t worry about what other people think of us ever, where as I worry about everything. Not necessarily perception, but I worry about accuracy, I want people to know the real me, the truth, and I get frustrated when opinions are formed based on inaccuracies. Where as Shaun, my husband, doesn’t care – and it’s a quality in him that I envy.

It’s true that despite not having a large close knit family, I love family life. I love being a mum, I love being a wife, I love having my mum a constant in my life and can’t go a whole day without having texted her.

When I did meet my biological father, it didn’t bring me anything, not closure, not peace, nothing. I believe family are the people you can count on, the people that support you, know you and actively make an effort to be in your life and I don’t believe they have to share your DNA – he did none of those things, my dad, and therefore has no place in my life. I don’t hate him, because I don’t really know him, I just know he’s not the man he was supposed to be for me and I’m ok with that now.

My daughter is the backbone of our family, she brings everyone together and shares all of her personality with everyone she meets. She unites us when we’d sometimes struggle to find reasons to come together. She looks like her Daddy but she has my openness and lack of filter. She has my fire and sensitivity and her Daddy’s kindness, humour and carefree attitude. She is the perfect mix of both of us and I love her with such ferocity it scares me.

She has grandparents and stepgrandparents and she has never asked who my daddy is, (in fact it took me ages to convince her that her nanny is my mummy) but that day may one day arrive, when it does this is what I will tell her:

I will tell her and her brother (who’s not yet born) that families are a beautiful mass of complexity that never look the same, some people have two mummies or two daddy’s and some have only one of either. Some, like hers, have one of each. Some have siblings and some have none. Families are sometimes of different ethnicities and not all mummy’s grew their babies in their tummies.

I want her to know that family doesn’t have to mean inseparable, but it can if you want it to. Family doesn’t have to mean best friends, but it’s great when they are the best friends you’ve chosen.

It’s an ancient idea (IMO) that you must bond with someone who’s a blood relative, but it’s lovely to do so if you’re able. I don’t want her to feel forced to bond with someone just because she’s related to them, but I will encourage the bond if it’s what she wants. Family can be friends you’ve chosen, it can be in-laws, god’ and step parents, and it can look different for everyone.

Family to me simply means, the people you love. The people you want to show up for. The people you can rely on, but also the people you choose to support. Family means a mixed blend of give and take and respect and kindness. Family means traditions and memories. Friends and pets. I don’t like cutting people off, ever, not family or friends, but the older I get, the more I notice lack of effort. I don’t mean forgetting to wish someone a happy birthday, I mean not attempting to connect, and when I feel it, the less likely I am to put effort in in return. I’ve always been a person that organises people, I arrange gatherings, I’ve always hosted and I always encourage communication, because I’m a good communicator – but the older I get I realise you can’t force people to be in your life, so if they’re not, it’s likely because they don’t really want to be and as much as it stings sometimes, we have to let it go. Ciara has 8 godparents, approximately four of them interact with her. I have family that have never met her, and maybe never will. It’s not my job to force myself or my kids on people. If they want to be involved they will. If you want contact with someone you’ll request it, irrespective of being asked. Life is busy and time passes quickly even when it feels slow. To me it’s not about grand gestures, it’s just about showing an interest. Family are the people you laugh with, trust, spend time with because you want to, and they are the people that check in to see if you’re ok. They’re also the people you remember to check in on, because you want to know they’re ok. They are the people who fill our hearts with fun and love and are the shoulders we cry on. They are not always or only the people that created us or the people that are related to us.

My family, plus one in utero

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