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When Blood Isn’t What Ties You to the People You Count on Most

Photograph by Leah Campbell

I spent most of my childhood counting down the days until I could get away. My family was broken and chaotic; I often felt either unwanted or completely unseen. It was hard and sad, and it led me into adulthood pretty shattered.

It took years and plenty of distance for me to really put the pieces back together. But, eventually, I did. Through therapy, space from the family that had let me down and strong friendships with people who helped me to learn about healthy communication and stability, I like to think I turned out pretty OK. Certainly better off than I could have been.

I’ve been on my own for nearly 20 years now, and with the exception of my grandparents, I still have a pretty fractured relationship with family. At least, the family I was born into. But the family I’ve chosen for myself is another story entirely.

Over the years, I’ve managed to build a strong group of friends around myself and my little girl. These are the people who rushed to my side when I found out I was going to be adopting a newborn with less than a week to prepare. They are the ones who have answered the phone in the middle of the night when I’ve called in a panic over high fevers and enduring baby cries. They’re the trusted advisors I turn to for parenting advice and when I simply need to let off steam.

We typically see these people we love most a few times a week. We celebrate holidays with them and spend weekends camping alongside them—we’re even in the midst of planning a big Disney cruise together for early next year.

You could call them our village, our tribe, but I tend to think of them as our family. Or, maybe, our “framily.”

I realized recently that the family I always dreamt of having growing up has actually become a reality. Sure, none of the people I rely on most are related to me by blood. Then again, neither is my daughter.

The family I always dreamt of having growing up has actually become a reality.

Maybe all that “blood is thicker than water” nonsense people like to spout isn’t all that valid after all. At least, not for people like me, people who have come to realize that the framily they choose is often made up of people they can count on more than the family they were born into.

I know I’m insanely lucky in the friend group I’ve fallen into. Most of the people I consider myself closest to grew up very differently from me. They have strong extended families—parents and grandparents and siblings who have also embraced my daughter and I as their own. They don’t need us in the same way we need them, and yet, they hold onto us tightly all the same.

My friends were there for us when my daughter was going through a scary period of illness that led to an eventual chronic diagnosis. They have learned alongside me how to best manage her care, and have never hesitated to take her for a night, even when keeping her healthy sometimes takes a bit of extra work.

They’re the people I have listed on my will to take her if anything ever happens to me. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that she would always feel safe, loved, wanted and seen in their homes.

My daughter and I could be lonely—a single adoptive mom living 3,000 miles away from the family she isn’t that close to anyway—but we’re not. We’re surrounded by love, stability and people we know we can rely on.

Maybe that’s what happens when your family can’t be what you need them to be. Maybe being willing to create some distance and build something better for yourself opens doors to finding a framily that extends beyond even your wildest dreams. Or maybe we just got lucky. I like to think it’s a little bit of both, and that others out there have been able to build a framily for themselves.

For those who haven’t found that connection yet, just know that it is possible. Family doesn’t always have to be bound by blood.

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