"Blood is thicker than water." This is a phrase I've heard all too often throughout my life. Although, most of the people I grew up calling "aunt" or "uncle" were not my biological relatives at all. From a young age, my support system has been made up of people whom I considered my family, despite what our genetics may say.
Family is a more fluid term than simply "blood relatives," and I think it's time we start treating it as such.
Although I have an uncle on my dad's side, my mom grew up as an only child. Technically, this would mean I didn't have aunts and uncles on this side of my family, but this didn't stop me from calling her best friends my aunts. Because, to me, that's what they were.
They supported me in my endeavors and loved me just as any aunt would love their niece. When referencing them in conversation, it never crossed my mind that I called them "Aunt Pam" or "Aunt Sheryl" because that's who they were to me - my family.
It was as if all of our families combined to form one, and it never felt unnatural or awkward to go to their family functions and talk to people actually related to them. This was the life I always grew up knowing.
As I've grown older, it's become even more apparent to me how much family doesn't rely on our biological makeup. Two of my grandparents, one on each side of my family, are not related to me by blood, but the "step" in front of their title does not enter my mind when I talk about them.
My grandma stepped up to the plate when she needed to and even supported me when she didn't have to.
She loves me and my sisters unconditionally and has shaped us into who we are currently and who we are becoming. Despite not being blood-related, she is a grandmother to me, through and through, regardless of the technical "step" before her role.
The same can be said about my grandpa, even though he and my nana are not technically married. Although my biological grandfather passed away, he has taken the role of "grandfather" and has been an amazing support system for my mom and I. If my biological grandfather saw the way he treats my mom and me, I think he'd be extremely proud and grateful for all the love we receive.
Step-parents also get a bad rep every now and then. However, I am fortunate enough to have two amazing step-parents in my life, who treat me with more love and kindness than I think I deserve.
Both treat me as one of their own children and want me to succeed just as any parent would. That's why when people ask about my parents, I mention that I have four. It seems odd to those who don't understand divorce or the idea of having step-parents, but the "related by marriage" part of our relationship hardly crosses my mind.
At the end of the day, I'm incredibly grateful that I was raised to look past biological labels.
In my own life, I find myself forming friendships with people I hope to consider "aunts" and "uncles" of my future kids. I want to teach my children that their relatives are those who are biologically related to them, but they don't always have to be.
A family is made up of people who love you, cherish you, and can only better you as a person.
They want to see you become successful, and they aren't scared to help you out when you need it most. A family isn't only skin deep.