Chosen Relatives

A few years back one of our young relatives was disconcerted to realize that most of us were not, after all relatives—at least, not biologically. Like many another family these days, we have gathered together groups of people to whom we have an emotional, but no biological tie.  We have step-relatives  and their spouses and children; honorary aunts, uncles and cousins; half-brothers and sisters; adopted children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren; exes and current spouses; and people whom we just plain like (in fact, sometimes a lot more than we like our actual relatives).

Having become acquainted with the reality of our non-relationships, the young woman was uncertain if she should continue calling most of us by our honorary titles of aunts, uncles and cousins. I understood her dilemma, for I often found myself struggling to explain our family’s complicated relationships to friends and acquaintances.  “My sister-in-law’s sister” is a cumbersome mouthful, and a little confusing.  Even worse was attempting to explain, “The second wife and children of the stepson of my brother’s estranged brother-in-law by his now-divorced wife.”   (Yeah, try figuring that one out!  It makes the vintage song, I’m My Own Grandpa, sound perfectly logical!)

So I’ve decided (because, of course, I’m an expert in these matters and my opinion should bear extreme weight!)…anyway, I’ve decided that we need a universal term applicable to all these confusing familial relationships; one that would cover all bases, all options, without prejudice or explanation. Of the many possibilities I considered, Chosen Relatives is the one I liked best.  And because that is still a bit of a mouthful, I think it should be shortened to Chosatives, or perhaps even just Chosives.

A chosative is, basically, anyone that we welcome in as a family member, and who usually joins the family as an adult. They are someone who is present for birthdays and christenings, and holiday dinners.  They come to share our joy at weddings and our grief at funerals.  They are there to listen when the world crashes down about our ears, and to offer sound advice (without even complaining when we totally chose to ignore the advice and therefore compound a bad situation into a worse one).  They lend a hand when someone is ill and needs care—meals brought in, or transportation to a medical appointment.  They show up at the hospital with flowers and cards and (most precious) time to visit.  They step in to look after our pets when crisis strikes and we can’t be home. They babysit the youngest members of the tribe.  They are that special someone who is loved as much as, or often more than, our “legitimate” family members.

In one of my favorite holiday movies, a character exclaims, “You are born into a family. You do not join them like you do the Marines!”  But that is just the point: If we are fortunate enough, we often do join a family.  They gather us in under the shelter of their wings, and we become bound with them, heart and soul, body and spirit.

And what more could any family member truly be?

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