This story serves as both a thank you letter to my supportive and encouraging family, but also as a message to any parents or soon-to-be parents about how supporting your kids can truly impact their life for the better.

My whole family - from my parents, to my grandparents, to my brothers - have always been my biggest supporters and have always served as sources of inspiration.

They never tell me what to do, or when to do it; they encourage me to talk things through instead.

Whenever there's a decision I need to make, my family will be there for me when I need somebody to talk to. They don't tell me what to do, but they listen to my ideas and give me their opinions, but only when I ask for them. They help me through the decision-making process (whether it's something as small as what to do a project on or as big as where to go to school) so that I'm better equipped to make smart decisions on my own.

They know the value of positive reinforcement and a healthy self-esteem.

My parents and grandparents made sure that all of my successes, and all my brothers' successes, were praised and celebrated no matter how big or small they were. It could have been anything from getting an A on an exam to getting a new job, and there would be at least a Facebook post about it, not to mention endless bragging to their friends and coworkers. My parents and grandparents know the value of positive reinforcement and that the more they show how proud of us they are when we do something good, the more likely we are to do something good in the future. However, they're always sure frame it in a way where the success doesn't go to our heads.

They don’t expect anything from us, except that we embrace ourselves and respect others.

This one's a two-parter. My family constantly reminded my brothers and I that we're loved by them no matter what. No matter who we love, no matter what path we choose, they'll always love and care for us. This fostered a very healthy relationship for me with my family, especially my parents. Because of those constant reminders, I was never afraid to tell them about what I was thinking or feeling or what was going on in my life. I was able to be open with them as much as I needed, which helped me understand what I was feeling and helped my parents to understand what was going on in my life. It created an opportunity for open communication between us, which is beneficial to me even now that I'm in college. I know when something's on my mind I can pick up the phone and call home, and my parents appreciate being kept up-to-date on my life at school as well.

The second part is about respecting other people, but it's still been a benefit to me. My parents are very open-minded people and they have passed that open-mindedness on to my brothers and I. I can't recall any time when they judged someone based on their size or their religion or their looks or their sexual orientation (which isn't to say it never happened, because nobody's perfect, but it didn't happen often enough to leave an imprint). They always told us to never judge a book by a cover and to respect anyone who comes across our path, regardless of the differences we may see between us. Even more so than that, they didn't just tell us to respect others, but they modeled the behavior, too. It's hard to explain how freeing it can be to have an open-mind and be accepting of just about anyone who walks into your life.

The support my family has given me over the years is the reason I'm the person I am today. Without them and their encouragement I don't think I would've been able to make the decision to move away from home for school (even if it is only two hours away). I certainly wouldn't be as accepting of friendships with people of different backgrounds as I am. And I know I wouldn't have the good mental health nor the positive relationship with them that I do.

I could never thank them enough for this, and I could never express how important it is for other families to be supportive of their kids as well.