Not too long ago, I posted a picture on social media of a friend of mine playing with my son. They were both visibly enjoying each other's company, which is huge because he has a very keen sense of discernment at not quite 2 years old.
I made it a point to reference her as his auntie in the caption that ran with the picture. To my surprise, I received a private message from my blood relative which stated, "Auntie, who?" It made me laugh at such pettiness, but also made me think because my son has many family members who are not of his own blood.
What exactly is the difference between family and relatives?
As a mom who is constantly moving, this is a question that I had to clearly define for myself and for my son to ensure that he understands the difference and necessity of separating the two. Due to living overseas, we have grown accustomed to building villages with people who aren't related to us. My son was born in Poland and has also lived in Egypt and, now, China. As a result of consistently changing environments, I'm adamant that the people we define as family are constant, active participants in his development, growth and expression of love.
I have realized during his short life that people stake claim and use titles undeserving, trying to prove their own importance. As a mother who's been with my son everyday since he was born, I could not just walk away from my son, deciding to just stop parenting, and still have a right to that title if someone else were to actually fill that role. Titles don't necessarily have to hold any weight, but I believe that they do with the kind of life we live. To earn a title, like auntie, it requires someone to do more and be more. It places action behind the title of who they represent.
By searching the word "family," there is a secondary definition as "all descendants of a common ancestor." I would beg to differ on this definition and would swap it with "relative," instead.
In my experience, relatives are the people you are bonded to through genetics. But family is something different and much more complex, especially in today's more nomadic society.
As the face of family changes, there is a new normal that has allowed us to redefine it. The way that I'm raising my son to understand the concept of family is that family is people who show up. People who do the work and put in the time to help make him the greatest human being he can be. The people who support, love, respect and honor your very being. They do not have to be related to you.
I've found that the people I hold dearest, as family, have been there to hold me up in the hardest times in my life and celebrate my triumphs, equally. My father always taught me, through example, that we hold a responsibility to each other to be present for others. We need one another.
When I gave my friend the title of aunt, my blood sister missed the fact that because my husband and I live abroad without much help, he and I hadn't had any time alone in the almost two years our son has been with us. This newfound family member wanted to give us a break. She suggested that we take a few hours for my husband's birthday to enjoy the company of each other with the ability to not be worried about the care being given to our son.
She sent me videos and pictures, easing my anxiety. She fed and changed my baby. She played with him. She made a safe space for him to feel comfortable enough to be without us. She was, indeed, an auntie.
We have established miniature pockets of family outside of relatives. We have many aunts, uncles, sisters and brothers that have jumped in to create a real village that supports us. I know that my blood relative loves me and my son. But because of where we live now and how we live, we are lucky enough to have other people we can call family.
The cliche goes: "Home is where the heart is." I would take that a step further, saying that family is home, no matter where you are.
Imani Bashir is a former sports broadcaster who decided to try her hand as an educator teaching abroad.