I am slowly learning that adult life will never mimic my childhood. The people who used to come around for holidays will not always show. The guest list will not stay the same. People change. Families change. And that is okay.
I am slowly learning to stop feeling guilty for inviting less people over for Thanksgiving, for sending out fewer Christmas cards, for only considering certain people priorities to me. I am slowly learning some of the people who mattered most during my past do not belong in my present.
I am slowly learning that the code I was taught as a young child — to never give up on family — is complete bullshit. If someone brings me nothing except unhappiness, I am allowed to walk away from them, even if they once held a bottle to my lips. My genetics do not bind me to them. I have no obligation to repay them for placing a roof above my head. I have no obligation to stand still while they pummel me, just because I feel like I have a lifelong sentence to stay loyal to them.
I am slowly learning that I am not tethered to my family tree. I am allowed to chop it down and plant a new seed. I am allowed to create my own family — one where I am comfortable being myself, one where I feel completely accepted, one where I do not hide upstairs because I want to avoid the constant criticisms.
I am slowly learning that family does not consist of the people who share my eyes and nose. It does not consist of the people who heard my first words and helped my wobbles turn into walks. My real family consists of the people who love me exactly as I am. The people who comforted me when I hit my lowest point and celebrated alongside me when I reached my highest. The people who know more about me than just my name and my major. The people who can list out what I stand for, what I want, who I am.
I am slowly learning that my relatives are not actually the superheroes I saw when I was young. I am slowly learning they are flawed, they are human, they are not inherently deserving of my love just because we happen to share a common ancestor.
Make no mistake, I am not going to give up on family over minor arguments. I am not going to say goodbye after one blunder — but if hurting me becomes a habit, if they stunt my growth, if they are unhealthy for me as a whole, then I am not going to entertain them any longer. I am not going to let someone toxic remain in my life, just because they are the technical definition of family.
My real family are the people who lift me up, the people who spend time with me on more than just holidays, the people who I cannot imagine walking through this world without because they breathe life into my lungs.