As the holiday season approaches I’ve been thinking more about family. Not only my own family, but the importance of support provided by a loving community and what really defines “family” for each of us individually. The definition of family is “a group of people related either by birth, marriage or other relationship, co-residence, or some combination of the three.”

The traditional idea of family is of course focused around immediate or extended family. Usually this might include parents, siblings, grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles. But what about close family friends? Or pets? Or that neighbor you always wave at as you drive by? This is where the line becomes more difficult to define.

However, the idea of family is really something that can be defined by each individual, meaning that really anyone deemed worthy can be part of your family. It is up to your own discretion. For example, I personally would consider my pets as part of my family. I’m not really sure how we’re related, but I know that I love them as much as I love other members of my family.

Everyone will have their own criteria for measuring how they feel about others and whether or not they feel close enough to consider someone a part of their family. There are work families, nuclear families, extended families and online families. Even plants and rocks belong to different kinds of families. Really the only guideline in defining what a family is, is to follow the idea that a family is a group in which the main focus is maintaining the well-being of its members.

Having the support of others who you value is important to creating a healthy and nurturing environment for yourself. Being able to go to others during tough times, and relying on those who love you feels good. This is especially true when things feel like they’re falling apart. And being in my early 20’s, sometimes that’s more often than not.

Even though some of my family is far away and I don’t get to see them often, just knowing that I have those people I can rely on is relieving. And there are plenty of others who are in my same position in which they live away from their nuclear family. That’s where forming different kinds of families comes in. New support systems are being built all the time, and maintaining older relationships with people is as simple as making a phone call.

Familial love is something that is important for emotional well being and future emotional health. Your family is your emotional “soft place to land,” so to speak.

The idea of family is something that can be translated in many different ways. Really it is something curated by each of us for ourselves. But it is my opinion that this is a great opportunity for each of us to form bonds with others and build a supportive network of friends and family for ourselves.

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