My friends are my family, and I wouldn't have it any other way
Alright, I'll be upfront – I don't have a super close relationship with my immediate family. I won't get into the grisly details, but I had a rough childhood and little to no relationship with my parents throughout my adolescence. I had no siblings until I was 13 and while a few more distant family members stepped in to feed me or look after me, I spent most of my life pretty much fending for myself. From a young age I found myself spending more time at my friends' houses than my own, with their parents making me breakfast and dinner and even buying me clothes. This was something I thought was completely normal, and while my experience perhaps isn't extraordinary or particularly terrible, I've started to become super grateful for my friends' (and their parents') input in my life.
My first and closest friend from 4-16 was my entire world, and I met her because my mother was a daily regular at her mom's bar. I went to her house in the morning, where I ate breakfast before we went to school. My lunch was bought with money her mother had given me, and then I would go over there at night for dinner. I would stay over for the entirety of most weekends. Her family would take me on vacations, buy me food, and when I got older I even spent Christmas at their house. When my mom kicked me out when I was 12, my friends' parents let me use their computer for my homework.
As I got older and headed into my teenage years, I started hanging out with my friends constantly. We would drink, go to concerts, and hang out at the park. I would spend entire weekends and most of the week sleeping at different houses. When I was sick or had had a hard time at home, my friends were the first people I went to. It was only as I got older that I realized their parents' role in looking after me. Their parents, out of some empathy or knowledge of my situation that I didn't quite understand, let me stay there. They cooked me dinner, dressed me, expressed concern. They did everything for me, from taking me on holiday to buying me Christmas presents.
When I had hard times, when my dog died or I had trouble at home, I didn't even consider calling my parents. I would rush straight over to my friend Zoe's house and let myself in. Her parents would cook me dinner, put me to bed, and I felt exponentially better in the morning. Going to other people's homes sparked something in me approaching jealousy – when I saw friends arguing back with parents who I saw loved them, I felt shocked. But eventually, after a few Christmases, I realized I was just lucky to be invited in at all. My friends and their parents saw that I needed taking care of, and they did so without a second thought.
When I moved away, I found it easy to go. I had my boyfriend and my dog – my own family. Two of my best friends eventually moved to the same town and we started our own traditions – Chrismukkah dinners and birthday parties. We are all miles away from our own families, close or not, and we now have to look out for one another. When I had to go back home I chose not to go for Christmas or birthdays. I had my own home, my own family, and nowhere to go in my hometown. But when I do have to go back, however briefly, I always find myself staying at my friends' houses; their parents welcome me with open arms.
I never felt as if I was missing out on anything – even when I saw my friends with their close-knit families or loving parents, I was happy. As I got older and I learned that my situation was perhaps unusual, I looked back with massive gratitude to my friends and their families for taking me in when they didn't have to. Now, as an adult, I've made some attempts to reconcile with my own immediate family but it doesn't feel right. I feel no animosity, I am just more at home with the group of people I've made for myself. The people I chose, who didn't have to help me, but still did everything. I have spent more vacations and Christmases with friends than with anyone blood related to me, and I wouldn't change a thing.
My situation taught me that people can be infinitely kind, and that blood sometimes means absolutely nothing if the love and care isn't there. It's also taught me to be the best parent I can to my little half sister. I don't consider myself to not have a family – I do have one, it's just a little different than the traditional definition – and it will continue to grow as I make new friends and traditions. It takes a village to raise a child, and I am so grateful for my little village.