Monday Notes: Who is Family?

Being adopted has shaped the way I view who is family and who is not. When I found out I was adopted over thirty years ago, I saw the people around me in a different light. I saw them as strangers, yet I still accepted them as family because they had taught me to do so. I instantly realized that any combination of people could make a family.

img_8185In this way, I accepted my mother and father as my family unit. These were the people who’d decided to raise me from infancy as their own. They loved me, and I them. But when my mother died and my father gave up his parental rights, I began to question the definition. Was my adopted father not my father anymore simply because the Court said he wasn’t? I mean the Court deemed him my father in 1974, and so he was. Was he not in 1990 because they said he wasn’t? He was the only father I’d known. Could the Court demolish sixteen years of relationship?

At the age of seventeen, I was briefly orphaned, until my adopted grandmother assumed responsibility. She became my legal guardian. I never called her mother or mom because I’d already had two of those. Plus, she was simply my Grannie as she’d been before. She was family, not only because she was my mother’s mother, but also because she’d provided love and comfort throughout my entire life, and at a time when I’d most needed it. She’s been the most consistent relationship I’ve had.

img_8191As I grew older and had children of my own, curiosity about my own background grew. By the age of thirty-two, with a lot of hassle from the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, I found my birth mother’s family. My biological mother had committed suicide five years after I was born. Few family members were easily contacted. One of her older sisters, Aunt Catherine, was found and I immediately felt connected.

Our shared name was odd. But what was stranger was the point of her nose and the idea that her face looked like mine. It’s a luxury adopted children don’t have. In fact, people who didn’t know me asked her daughter who I was, making sure she knew that I looked exactly like her mother. Aunt Catherine and I held long phone conversations and that lady, although I didn’t know her fully, felt like family.

My sister, the woman whom my mother had birthed five years prior to me, did not. She was cold and distant and didn’t seem interested in establishing or maintaining a sisterhood. Today, we’re friends on social media, but similar to former grammar school classmates, that’s the extent of our relationship. Our genes are stronger than our connection, yet we are family.

Fast forward thirteen years later, and I’ve found my biological father by accident via DNA website. When I looked at this man’s face, I knew he was my father. The parts of my face that Aunt Catherine and I didn’t share, were seen in him. Our eyes. Our smile. Our demeanor. He is my biological father and we are family.

After our first conversation, I learned that I have another sister. We are the same age. We look like twins. Pictures reveal the same wide puppy dog eyes as youth and the same curvature of our backs in our twenty-something wedding pictures. We are family because genetics says so; however, we’ve found that we are also family because we relate similarly. Conversing with her is like talking to myself. And once again, I’m left wondering, what is family? This newfound sister certainly is. It’s like I’ve found part of me I didn’t know I needed. Our immediate love for one another is evident.

I share all of this to say that family is whomever you make it. Being adopted has taught me that family is but another societal construct, but relationship is something altogether different. Like other relationships, familial ones can be maintained simply because two people want them to be. I’ve also come to believe that being born or adopted into a family is but one component of actually being family. For me, relationship, caring, and commitment are true connectors, and consequently what makes a family.

That’s my final answer. What’s yours?

84 thoughts on “Monday Notes: Who is Family?

  1. Reblogged this on Happiness Between Tails by da-AL and commented:
    Guest Blog Post: Who is Family? by K E Garland
    Holidays and New Year celebrations are when messages about what family should and shouldn’t make me want to gag. They generalize everyone into one big homogenous lump.
    That’s when I step back and take stock of the people I know. It does my heart good to see that we’re individuals — and that includes our families, the ones we make, or our lack thereof.
    What are your thoughts on family?
    Here blogger and author of books, K E Garland, describes how being adopted shapes her concept of family…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow! What a journey you’ve had in realizing who and what family actually is. This reminds me of when Jesus was asked the question “who really is my neighbor”. His answer to that question is similar to your discovery. Those that we love and care for and that love and care for us are our family. We quite often have friends that stick closer to us than brothers (Proverbs 18:24). I’m so happy that you’ve located members of your biological family, that’s important in discovering who you are as a person. Great post!

    Liked by 3 people

  3. K E, you are so lovely to share your experience as well as your heartfelt thoughts. I’ve found this to be a truly complicated subject, which changes with time, as does my definition of friendship. At a certain level, I have to figure that I can’t overthink it. What I know for sure is that it’s easier to not burden my friends with the kinds of expectations that I can’t help myself have with certain members of my family. There are so many relationships I’ve had over my life that I wished were different at times. Some have been terribly scarring, yet overall I’ve been very fortunate. All I know is that I must keep my heart open, stay positive, in order to be able to take in the good things that come my way. If I don’t, I choke off my ability to invite goodness into my life…

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Hi Kathy! I am particularly moved to learn about your meeting and connection with your sister who is your same age. I am happy for you the two of you.😍

    While reading your post I was reminded of the movie, “Antwone Fisher” which showed this young man coming to terms with a painful childhood in foster care and not understanding why his birth mother never came [lovingly] to his rescue. As an adult, new people came into his life -becoming “family” – and they supported him in locating his biological family. Meeting his birth mother was sad. Meeting members of his biological father’s family was joyous.

    When I was a child, my family life felt safe and cohesive, no matter our challenges; it still does. But as an adult I’ve learned that there is more “patchwork” involved. People I thought were blood relatives are not; and many biological relatives somehow “disappear,” abandon, or feel abandoned by pockets of relations.

    It seems that the people for whom the word “family” means something are the ones who make it so.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Heeeey Leslie! I’ll have to tell you about it one day lol I’ve held back blogging about it because I’m pretty sure I want it to be the final story in a project I’m currently working on. Thank you for those well wishes; we’re both over the moon about it.

      You know…I’ve never watched that movie, but maybe I will now.

      Just in talking with people, I’ve learned that no family is “perfect” per se. Some have more challenges than others, but none are perfect. So, I agree. It’s kind of like any other relationship. If you say I’m your cousin, and we agree to what that means, then by all means, we’re cousins lol

      Liked by 1 person

  5. It’s great that you were able to reconnect with your birth family. So you have two families plus you are married with children so you always have somebody in your corner.

    Except for my brother Stephen nearly all my immediate family have died. Sometimes I need help with my disability or getting to the doctor and I look at my address book only to see many of the People I was close to are gone. That’s the bad thing about getting older. And unless you are an extrovert, outgoing and enjoy socializing you are done. I’m an insecure introverted being who tends to isolate myself.
    My only positive step was to join a nearby church last month. Tomorrow I receive the right hand of Fellowship. It amazes me that anyone would accept me but at least I can look forward to Sunday. The church is a family that can help me during the increased times of sickness. They even offered to enlarge the Bible study material so I can keep up. It’s difficult to find a Place to belong once trusted family and friends die. The world is an empty place void without meaning where you must put on an act or pretend. At least for tomorrow I will have a time of happiness.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks for the kind words DeBorah! I do have quite a few folks I can count on and I’m grateful for those connections.

      I’m glad to hear that you’ve joined a church, and I hope they can support you socially and personally. It sounds like they’ve already supported you in useful ways! I agree about the world being empty, especially if you’re acting or pretending. I stopped acting and pretending a few years ago, and I’ve found the world to be a much more inviting place, one where I attract people who are aligned with who I really am. Sending you light and love on this Tuesday ❤


      1. Thanks. Last Sunday I received the right hand of Fellowship. I was happy. I’m not much of a social butterfly. Since my retirement I’ve become more Solitary. Even when I know that getting out more and being social would be a good idea I still shy away. I’ve never really been comfortable around People. It’s just easier to be alone or with my brother Stephen. I’m never really my true Self around People. I don’t allow People to get close to me. Over time I’ve built walls around myself for protection. Never show my vulnerability. That’s part of the reason I changed the focus of my writing Blog. I’m destined to be a recluse and a hermit. Everyone has a pattern and the older you get the less likely you are to change.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. It’s easy to be cocky and self assured when you are young, healthy and strong but as time marches on and you lose your youth, health and strength everything changes. Your attitude towards the future changes. When you can no longer do the things that you used to do 15 or 20 years ago it’s a whole new game. Part of the reason I joined the church is that I’m feeling my mortality. I’ve had many coworkers and friends die in the last ten years. I’ve been in and out of the hospital myself. My time on this earth is short. You can never run away from your fears, time or yourself. Getting my house in order. Focusing on Heaven.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. I greatly enjoyed your post and the comments that followed. My husband was adopted and was able to connect well with some of his birth family. Others rejected him, which was painful, but he has grown through the experience, and we have grown together, more thankful than ever for the family that he and I have together. I love the overall vibe of your post … one of acceptance and growth … rather than bitterness or despair, which is so easy when family ties are messy. Thanks for sharing your story.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you so much! I can understand how being rejected can feel because, for some, the notion of being adopted can be a feeling of rejection that one carries throughout his or her life (sometimes).

      I’m glad that the tone shone through because I really have no bitterness or despair at this point. Over time, I’ve realized that life is.

      Thanks again for reading and commenting and send your husband my best regards ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Last Wednesday, on my birthday, I really wanted to visit the Flood Museum in the Netherlands. My mother’s father was one of the engineers who came up with my country’s world-famous Delta Works and I hoped to find his name or image somewhere in the museum (unfortunately, I didn’t).

    I never knew this man as he passed away shortly after my eldest sister was born. I have no memories of him, yet I feel this strong connection. It’s like we missed each other in this life, yet I really long to have him be part of it.

    He is my family even if I never knew him, and that feeling is so strong I can’t describe it.

    On the other hand, my middle sister is… a though case. Let’s just call her that. We don’t really have a connection, not like me and my eldest sister have.

    Family is funny, I suppose. Sometimes that blood bond can make your relationship feel stronger than anything, and sometimes that’s all there is: a connection through blood.

    I am happy you found a sister who’s not just that on paper or through genes. Strong family bonds can be unbreakable ❤

    Liked by 3 people

  8. I loved hearing your story. It was so inspiring.
    I have a cobbled together family so your words were heart warming.

    Nora McInerny, a writer, said in an interview, “I think the faster we teach kids that love is bigger than our insecurities, the better.”
    That phrase really struck me.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I sure do Lyn! Going through all of this has helped me to define and re-define what I know about living in general. Thanks for the compliment ❤ All of our lives are journeys and the quicker I realized that, the more liberated I felt from being "sad" about it, you know?

      Thanks for reading.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. This is on a whole different level. At first, I kinda felt teary eyed and then I realised the post to make the reader feel sorry for the writer but to ask ourselves who family really is. It just got me thinking, I have three sisters and I only seem to connect and relate with only of them. I have friends who know more about me right now than my two sisters do. I suppose family is who or what we make them to be in our lives. For me, I want to bring my sisters closer. I believe people you share genes and blood with have this invisible pull on you…. I think that pull was what made you search out your biological mum and father….. This post is really strong. I can’t get over it…. #Calling my sisters now… If family is who or what you make it, then I want to bring them closer.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Omo! I’ve read and re-read this a million times, and if you’ve been on IG, you know I’ve posted it there. I’m so happy that you related to this in a way that I intended. You’ve said it best at the end. “If family is who or what you make it,” then…yes, do what you can to be more connected to those people you say you care about. Wishing you much success as you move forward in that way.


  10. This is an exquisite post, Kathy. I love the connection you have with your Grannie especially! And your newfound sister – how beautiful. To me, it sounds like this process was incredibly liberating and a growth experience. So happy for you, and I love you Kathy. Blessings for your week! Debbie

    Liked by 2 people

  11. I agree, family is the people we are the most deeply connected to. Sometimes they are related biologically, other times, they aren’t. What really matters is just that we all find our own family, one way or another.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Dearest Kathy, I am moved by your story. You continue to inspire.
    “For me, relationship, caring, and commitment are true connectors, and consequently what makes a family.”
    This is so true. I could go on… but I’ll stop here, because you just hit a nerve talking about what makes a family.

    Liked by 3 people

  13. Great post, KE. I’d never given much thought to how complicated “family” could be in a situation like yours. Of course, we’ve all had friends that are so special we think of them as family. And don’t forget about pets… my “kids with fur” are definitely family! That’s my answer, I guess, anyone who is dear to us. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Joan, I definitely understand both of those situations. I have friends who act more like I would think family would and I loved my toy Poodle as much as any family member (if not more) lol Thanks for the compliment ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  14. This is such a deeply thoughtful post that I enjoyed reading it. I have pondered a lot over the nature of relationships called family. I grew up seeing so much stress among family members but always marveled at their commitment and loyalty to each other – in relating to each other in exact stressful ways without seeking any nurturing relationships outside of family, or changing the dynamics amongst them. I always questioned in my mind why they felt so chained to each other with the added ‘pride’ of being family. One good that came out of it is that I have so much value for authentic relationships – family or not!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much! I like your choice of words, “chained to each other,” “pride of being family.” I think that’s exactly it. We’re taught that family is an unbreakable bond, and we must forge ahead through the stress, no matter what, because…”WE’RE FAMILY!” Thing is no one is bound to anyone and those chains can be broken, if someone desires to…and new ties (not chains) can be created ❤

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Your words feel so liberating – it is important to make every relation a choice, see ourselves in relation to the other and take space if required. That may even lead to us returning to the same relations with more compassion and more strength to stand our ground. My pleasure having this conversation with you.

        Liked by 1 person

  15. Thank you for sharing this. I think the people who respect and care for you are family, the people who,you can always turn to and who will forgive you. Sometimes these people are related by biology, other times they’re not. We can’t choose biology, but we can choose who we let in

    Liked by 3 people

  16. What a journey you have had, Katherin! I am fascinated by your new reconnected relationships – what. a surprising addition this must be for your life. But your heart is open and Grannie gave you a wonderful foundation. It was very enlightening to learn more about your relationship with her. I’m sad for what you went through growing up, but I’m smiling to learn of all the family you have embraced at this later time in your life.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you Judy! One of the best reminders for myself is that it’s just a journey; this helps me to not personalize it as “bad,” “sad,”, etc. I appreciate it all, quite honestly because I know it was meant to be.

      Liked by 2 people

  17. Thank you for sharing your story Kate, it is both wise and touching. I have no experience
    of what you have gone through but can well see that a loving adopted family will give the nurture
    and comfort as much as those who are your physical parents.
    Out of the tragedy a little girl found a home and grew strong. That is a home. The bonds you found
    with your birth family is a wonderful bonus and richness.


    Liked by 4 people

  18. Thank you. Often I remind myself that no one has any control over “direct blood ties”, but we do have some say about who we want as “family”. What a gift some of us receive to have caring people in our lives early on so that we don’t think and feel so alone.

    Liked by 4 people

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