I don’t think family has ever (only) been what is fed to us – the nuclear family. I believe that in the past, especially in the African set-up, family was viewed as the community. Children belonged to the community, hence the saying ‘it takes a village’. With Westernization, we shifted our focus to creating the “perfect” nuclear family and forgot what family has always been about… community, love, and support.
Family is where I receive unconditional love. It’s a space I thrive in, not conform. This is an important aspect of family to me, belonging. To belong is different from to conform. Belonging means you have to be true to yourself, allow yourself to bloom, overcome obstacles that stand in the way of being the best version of yourself, and challenge yourself to improve. By belonging, you are required to be the truest version of yourself that exists, to embrace all the weird, beautiful, and unconventional parts of yourself, and be in a space that embraces you in all your uniqueness. To conform, on the other hand, is to change and “fix” every part of you that doesn’t reflect what is deemed acceptable, to cut and trim and hide parts of yourself to fit in the boxes created for you. It is being untrue to yourself, unjust, and never having the space to explore these parts of yourself that make you unique.
As I have grown, I have really redefined what family looks like for me. Because the space I have most felt loved unconditionally, accepted for who I am, and encouraged to be a better version of myself has been with those I have chosen to be in my inner circle. My best friends, my cousin, my sister, my brother, and even my few work colleagues… and to top it all off, I am going to be a cat mum! Typically, those who’d be called my family are my relatives… and I know there’s a difference. As much as I love them, I don’t feel safe to be who I am with them; and I’d much faster run to those I have chosen as my family than those I’m related to by blood when I need help, support, or celebration.
Family is an integral part of life, and I believe everyone should be granted the chance to define and redefine what that looks like for them. And our role as a society is to create an environment where this love blooms. Where we love more and judge less, accepting that love and community look different for everyone, and simply because we don’t understand or relate to the different families around us doesn’t mean we can’t accept and celebrate their existence. After all, how boring would it be if we all looked, thought, and lived the same?
So here’s to celebrating as many diverse families as there are in this world; childless families, child-free families, same-sex families, blended families, and child-headed families. And here’s to every family that is misunderstood, shamed, and not considered mainstream.
– *Aziza, Kenya