My Family by 'Heart' Is Just as Important as My Family by Blood

Martin Reardon Photography

osborne wedding
Martin Reardon Photography

When I was around 5 years old, I remember looking at my mom's best friend, whom I called "aunt" and saying out of the blue: "You're not my real aunt."

It wasn't intentionally malicious and was a true fact -- she isn't my mother's sister by blood, but I could tell it hurt her nonetheless. 

"We're not related by blood," she admitted, "but we are by heart, where it counts." 

At the time, I probably shrugged, said OK, and went back to playing. But now as a 31-year-old woman, I've really come to learn how true that is. 

  • Society has often told us that our nuclear family is the most important thing in the world, and in ways they are right. 

    I love my husband and my son something fierce, but the truth is that my heart has plenty of room for others, and I don't feel that shared genetics (or marriage) binds me to love certain people more than others. I'm incredibly fortunate to have blood-related family in my life and family by marriage, but I also have a ton of "found" family that I cherish as if we had grown up in the same house together.

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  • My found family mainly consists of a few people I've met along the way in life, and primarily those I grew up with. 

    My kid calls these women and men "aunt and uncle," too, and it isn't just to make them feel good. My son will hopefully know that he has these people to look to if he should ever need extra advice, a ride, or someone to con a cookie out of.  

    They treat my son like a "real" nephew, playing with him on the floor, picking him up from day care if my train is late. I can and have called on them so many times for help, and just like family is supposed to be, they are always there.

  • When people ask me how many nieces or nephews I have, I don't just count the two I have by blood (though, I truly love them so much). 

    My friends' children are my family, too. My heart breaks when their moms tell me they are sick. I'm happy to sit and watch YouTube videos with them, or cuddle, or play hide and seek as I would with my own. I hold space for each of them in my heart and am beyond ready to cheer alongside their parents at their soccer games or cry with them over their first breakups. And I hope they know they always have me to come to should they need advice, a ride, or someone to sneak them a cookie or two. 

  • Genetic relations don't sway or influence the amount of love I have for these people. 

    Family, to me, is a feeling. If I am with people I feel genuinely comfortable with, people that I trust wholeheartedly, why can't they matter as much -- if not more than -- family by blood? There are no rules when it comes to building a village, and no one has the right to tell you that there are some people you just "have" to love more. 

    My family by heart is just as valid as the woman who is surrounded by five blood-related sisters and brothers, and I'm so grateful to be able to not only receive but also give that love every day.