I’m the only girl in a family of many. I have two awesome older biological brothers and seven younger male cousins who I’m so close with that I count them as siblings. rowing up, my family was really close. My dad and his siblings decided to live near one another so that their families would be a tight-knit group—something they hadn’t experienced in their own childhood, with most of their family still living overseas. So I live within walking distance of a big rowdy gang of wonderful male relatives.

When I was younger, I used to hope for another girl cousin or sister in the family. Whenever it turned out not to be the case, younger me was vaguely disappointed. But now I realized that being the only woman in the ten of us is a huge part of who I am, and I wouldn’t trade it fro anything. My brothers are some of my favorite people on earth, and they’ve taught me a lot about myself.

I can do whatever the boys can do, but I don’t have to

Trust me, guys. I could throw down in a group wrestle if I wanted to. Was I a little bummed when the family gathering would start and all the boys would pile into the basement, build a ring and start body slamming each other? Sure. Did I want to participate? Uh, no. Being equal means that you also have equal choice in what activities you want to engage in. That one is not for me.

Even in a family of mostly men, strong women are the backbone

Being the only girl kind of made me everyone’s daughter. My aunts would spoil me with all the girly things their boys didn’t want, but it was their time I loved the most. My aunts have always been the most loving, supportive, fiercely strong women I know. They knew how badly I wanted another girl in the family, so they made me a part of their sisterhood.

Boys can be true blue besties, too

My cousins and brothers are some of the most interesting, hilarious, smart, caring and complex people I know. They’ve also listened to my rants, been absolute terrors to babysit and put up with my occasional over-the-top bossiness. But they’ve shown me that men can be strong allies to women, and form a strong support network when you need it.

You can pass it on

One of my brothers has three amazing kids, including a daughter. We’re super close and have been since day one. Like me, my niece has two brothers and only male cousins, so she was ecstatic when my cousin’s wife had a baby girl this summer. The first thing she did was set aside the clothes that didn’t fit her anymore and write the new baby a letter to introduce herself. I love seeing that immediate bond over girlhood and I like to think she gets it from the awesome women in her life.

It’s OK to be different

Guess what? I don’t want to watch you play video games and I don’t feel the urge to win a hamburger-eating contest. But I will be the person who makes your new girlfriend feel at ease at our ear-splittingly loud Christmas dinner. And I will be the person who bursts into tears because she’s so proud of you. When you’re different from the get-go, you learn to embrace it.

Not all sisters are biological

I love my family. While writing this article today, I’ve spoken to one aunt, two cousins, a brother and my mom. But one of the most important lessons I’ve learned from being the only girl is that I can choose my sisters. I have an outrageous group of friends who support me, love me and will stand by me no matter what.

And it keeps getting bigger. Over the years I’ve gained a sister-in-law, two cousins’ wives and more. I have so much sisterly love around me that at times it actually takes me by surprise. Some of my best friends come from big groups of sisters and they’ve taught me so much about what that means.I’ve also been lucky enough to have incredible female examples in my life – from my mom and grandmothers to my aunts, niece and new baby cousin – that I know how special it is to be a part of a sisterhood.

So, I embrace living in the land of men as long as I’ve got my sisters close by. Sisterhood is important, no matter who your siblings are.

Sarah Ryeland is a writer and editor who laughs through life with her boyfriend, her kitten, a bazillion books and a formidable imagination.

[Image via Nickelodeon]