I just got schooled by a twelve-year-old.
A large group of us were on holiday together, including twelve-year-old Sara.
As is the way at holiday resorts, kids seem to seek each other out and form fast friendships. After introducing himself, one child asked Sara, “Who are you here with?”
Overhearing their conversation, I started to wonder what Sara would answer.
Who’s Sara to me? Well she’s my mum’s partner’s daughter’s boyfriend’s child from a previous relationship.
Or you could say Sara is my step-dad’s daughter’s step-daughter. Or maybe my step-sister’s partner’s child.
There are many different ways to describe who me and Sara are to each other and how we ended up on holiday together.
But her explanation was the simplest and most accurate: we’re family. “I’m here with my family,” she told him.
Hearing her say that, stopped me in my tracks. I hadn’t thought how to describe our relationship before. It was what it was. Put on the spot to explain, long streams of ‘proper’ labels had sprung to my mind.
But with families taking more and more diverse forms nowadays, labels can be more of a hindrance than a help.
Step-this and half-that - not only is it a bit outdated, it doesn’t even begin to cover all the different people we may now count as family.
For the little ones in our family, they currently each have about three or four sets of grandparents, not two - gran and grandma doesn’t begin to cover it!
Our growing family wasn’t all born in the UK. We speak a fair few different languages. Some of us look related, some of us don’t. In fact, I look more similar to my step-sister than my biological sister.
That’s the thing about labels. Once you call someone your ‘step’-sister, you feel compelled to differentiate between that and your biological ... ‘blood’… ‘full’… ‘real’… ‘actual’ sister.
Rather than bringing us closer together by allowing us to describe who we are to one another, they create separations, different ‘degrees’ of family and inferred importance.
Sara is important to me. She’s a person I spend Christmases and holidays with. Someone I’ve seen grown from child to tweenie.
We may not be siblings or cousins, or even step/half anythings, but Sara was right - we are family.
One of my favourite quotes about family is from Sandra Bullock. She’s been a mum for eight years, having adopted Louis in 2010 and Laila in 2015.
She isn’t big on labels either: “Don’t say ‘my adopted child.’ No one calls their kid their ‘IVF child’ or their ‘oh, s***, I went to a bar and got knocked-up’ child. Let’s just say, ‘our children.’”
Let’s follow Sandra Bullock’s example. Let’s follow Sara’s lead. Let’s just say ‘my family’.
Family are the people we lean on when shit happens. Family are the people that know the good and bad sides of us and love us anyway. Whoever does that for you, that’s your family.
Embracing a broader definition of family can only be a good thing — more people to love and care for each other, to have your back. At the risk of sounding like a bit of a hippy, more love sounds pretty good in the era of Trump and Brexit.
I’m pretty proud of
my mum’s, partner’s, daughter’s, boyfriend’s child Sara. I’m proud of all my rambling, multilingual, but universally noisy family and everyone that’s a part of it.