Over the last few months, I’ve found myself frustrated over comments from people about members of their family. They have used family with quotation marks – “family” because they have included people in it who have been adopted. (Spouses were also not included as “family” but that in itself has not bothered me). Every conversation about the wider family has included a variation on the phrase “but of course don’t forget that J and D are adopted.” I know that these people have strong feelings about this, and have included provision in their will for grandchildren “of natural issue” only.
It brought me to that age old question, what makes a family? Is it the years spent together, the shared experiences, love, arguments, traditions? Remembering the Christmases when Uncle Robin drank too much, or Auntie Evelyn’s beautifully-iced Christmas cake, or Yvonne and James wrestling, or the games of French Cricket on the lawn? Or is it simply the shared blood, the shared DNA, that ties us? The fact that we can look around and see that we share the Rose hips, or the R noses, or that I see my mouth on my nieces’ faces.
And how important is that blood? It is only important in consciousness. If you know that someone doesn’t share your DNA, do you look at them differently, in that awareness? If you are not aware of the lack of any genetic connections, wouldn’t you love them as deeply? Don’t people manage to find or imagine physical or emotional similarities to ensure they’re included in the family? Aren’t family trees full of children who don’t have the fathers that are recorded or assumed, coming from different blood? Or these days, family trees will include children from donor eggs or sperm, whose genetic links are to another family tree entirely, but who have been loved and raised through this one, whether the wider family is aware or not that they don’t share DNA? Aren’t too, family trees empty of those who should be there, the children who are lost to that branch, unacknowledged because of indiscretions, shame and stigma, or simply lack of knowledge of their existence?
So why should these blood connections seem to be so important? And why do I mind so much that they are?
I suspect that this has hit me hard on a personal level, because our particular branch of the family tree ends with us. Adoption or other alternatives were always a possibility for us, not having any children of “natural issue.” I am furious at the thought that if I had adopted, people would view my children differently to those of my sisters, or of my husband’s brothers. The fact that they would be seen as second class citizens, not true members of the family. Would they feel the difference? Would it scar them? It makes me wonder whether child J and D, mentioned in the first paragraph, are aware of how some members of their family see them. I hope upon hope that they are not.
So why is it that I still flinch when I think of the bare, lonely branch on a family tree that ends with my husband and I? Why should it matter? Whilst I mostly feel accepting of my life without children, of my death and beyond, it does annoy me that this still has emotional power over me. Is it the desire for some form of immortality that makes blood so important? And isn’t that based on a deep-seated fear of being forgotten, a fear of ending? And isn’t that based on a feeling that you have not been enough in this life? Done enough? Been loved enough and loved enough right back? Is it based on a fear that we have not made a difference in someone’s life? Or that we have not changed the world after all?
Perhaps I just need to get over myself. We all need to get over ourselves. Simply being here has changed the world, and made it a better place. A kind word can make all the difference to the right person on the right day. Delight in someone’s writing, their work, their smile, their garden. Loving and being loved, whether by family or friends, near or far. These are not unimportant things. They should be, and are, enough.