Family Is In The Feeling

Originally published 2/13/14

Growing up the only girl in my family, I wanted a sister badly. As a young girl I would often ask my parents if they could have another child--preferably a sister especially for me. 

Now, looking back, I understand how naive I was. I was too caught up on the label to understand I always had sisters--and still do. 

This past weekend Keith said, "I liken your friends as your sisters." And he's right. My close friends are, to me, like extended family. My friends over the years have accompanied me on family vacations (and vice versa), have been there when my daughter was born and walked me through just about every life change that makes up the sum of who I am. I am fortunate.

In my blended family, the only time we use the term "step" is for legal, documentation purposes--to let those outside of us understand the nature of the formal relationship. But that's just on paper. Frankly, I had to explain to her what a "stepfather" was when her teacher announced him as such as the person who would pick her up from school one day. The essence is Trinity knows my husband as her Dad--regardless of the fact they share no DNA. His care, time, discipline and attention create for her the feeling of what she believes a father to be. I did not force this name on her. One day, after knowing him for about 4 months, the verbal transition slipped easily from her lips and the title has stayed since. She is home with him.

It is the same qualitative relationship that often propels Keith's children to call me "mommy." And the same love that provokes me to call them my children upon introduction. Sure, their mother may not agree with that label for me -- and I respect that. But there is something that is familiar about the endearing terms that are usually reserved for those we share DNA with. 

Keith often says that choosing to love someone as your family is perhaps more special than loving those who are actually your family. I think he's right. Love is a choice. People often say you don't choose your family. And formally, you don't. But I also believe family is in the feeling. The feeling of walking into my friend's house and immediately recognize changes to their decor because my visits are frequent, or not being told where the bathroom is, or even helping myself to the kitchen in preparation of a meal. It is familiar, cozy, comfortable, soothing and...home.

I've come to the conclusion that whatever label my husband's children decide works best for them, it is arbitrary to the quality of our relationship. We've built trust and love over the years and it will follow them for the rest of their lives because that's how long I'll be around. I have friends who introduce me as their sister--because the tie that binds us is as if we came from the same DNA. My sisters are here. It is extended family working at its finest. So whether Keith's children call me Ms. Tiffany, Mom, or stepmom, love still reigns. And in love, labels don't fit.