It’s that time of the year—when cookouts, get-togethers, family reunions, and family functions are on and poppin’! While for many people the thought of family gatherings evokes joy, laughter, love, and happiness (shoutout to Al Green), for others the thought of family unleashes a flood of anxiety, trauma, and angst. And then there are those who vacillate between the two poles. Regardless of how we feel about our families, we find ourselves at the same family functions with our baggage in tow. Human beings are complicated, y’all! So how do we navigate the tension of these disparate feelings about family?
Far too often, we want quick fixes to complicated family dynamics, but no two families are alike so a one-size-fits-all approach will not do. That would just leave us dissatisfied and with our issues unaddressed. Moreover, we can honor our place within our family systems—and honor our family as a collective—by reimagining what family means.
Our people have always had an expansive view of family that transcends blood, biology, and genes. Fictive kinship ties are those bonds we create with friends, neighbors, and acquaintances-turned-aces who become like family. Think about all the play cousins, play aunties, and play uncles you grew up with and love to this day—that’s fictive kinship, y’all! We ain’t new to this.
Even for those who have great family relationships and get hype by the thought of pulling up at the cookout, fictive kinship is a bonus. I’ve got so many play aunties, uncles, and cousins that I hardly know which ones I’m related to by blood and which ones I’m related to by love over the course of time. It’s what we do, and it’s a gift for those who have fraught and strained connections with blood relatives.
If you’re someone who gets triggered by the thought of going to family functions, boundaries are key. As I often say, boundaries protect what is sacred. Your well-being, mental health, and wellness are sacred. If your family dynamics are a cocktail of toxicity, pain, and trauma, erecting healthy boundaries will be of paramount importance. Unfortunately, when conversations about boundaries with family arise, there’s a tendency to think that it isn’t out of love. But it’s quite the opposite because love requires discipline, prudence, wisdom, and self-control.
Nowadays, many of us live far away from our biological families. So even if we have good familial bonds, the geographical boundaries keep us physically apart. I’m in the number of those who’ve lived far away from biological family for many years, so I’ve had to be intentional about connecting with family from afar while also adopting a more expansive view of what family can be.
Doing the imaginative work of constructing my own village to support and love one another is one of the ways that I’ve learned to live out Jesus’ second greatest commandment, love your neighbor as yourself. No other commandment is greater than these (Mark 12:31). When we gather together with our chosen friends, they become family—they become aunties and uncles to our children, and their children become play cousins to our own.
Ultimately, it is God who has the most expansive view of family. For He sent His son Jesus Christ to die for us, so that we would no longer be enemies of God but beloved children of God, adopted into God’s family where Jesus is not ashamed to call us his siblings. Jesus modeled this expansive view of family for us throughout His earthly ministry. Even as Jesus hung on the cross, nearing His final breaths, John says:
When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.” John 19:26-27
May we follow in Jesus’ radically imaginative footsteps and that of His disciple and do likewise.
What do you do to maintain family connection and cultivate kinship with your folks–near and far?Leave a Comment