DNA doesn’t define a family

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Ashley Tanner

The classic Disney movie Lilo and Stitch was a turning point for Disney.They had finally created a movie with characters who had realistic figures. They even embraced the Hawaiian culture and created an incredible movie that is still quoted 14 years later. But, they also changed the idea of a family dynamic for children everywhere, including myself.
I relate very much to the idea of a non traditional family, much like how Lilo considers Stitch to be part of her family. My mom is adopted, so I am not blood-related to anyone on her side. My dad’s parents are divorced, so I grew up knowing my step grandpa as my grandfather. My parents are divorced as well, and have since remarried. So, a majority of my family is either married or adopted in.
I don’t think anything of it. The only time I ever really acknowledge that my step family isn’t my blood family is when talking to someone who doesn’t know my situation yet. And I never talk about my mom being adopted, because I think about it maybe three times a year.
My sociology teacher once had a project where we asked a family member questions about their history, so I talked to my mom. One question was ‘how far back have you traced your genealogy?’ I had never known that my grandpa’s descended from the Ware family who came to the Americas on the Mayflower. It blew my mind. My family came over on the Mayflower, and if you googled them, they had a bunch of books and websites dedicated to them. Then, my mom dropped the ball.
I’m not related to them. My “real” family probably didn’t sail over on the Mayflower. But, as far as I’m concerned, my family was a part of that colony. I didn’t care that my family tree “technically” doesn’t include them — Papa is my grandpa, so my family came to the Americas on the Mayflower.
The greatest addition to my family was when my mom got remarried. To the world I gained a stepfather, a stepsister, two step aunts and a step grandma. But to me, I gained a new father figure, a sister, two aunts and Oma (Grandma in German, her home country). I refer to all of them as if I had grown up with them, even though I haven’t even known them for four years yet. Changes to my family dynamic didn’t stop there.
Jim, my stepfather, died in a car accident April of last year. The first time I spoke to my sister the day he died, I told her that she was still my sister no matter what. I may have lost the person who had connected us, but she was no less my sister than before he had died.
I chose to accept all of them as my family, just like Lilo chose Stitch to be hers. The most famous line from the movie, “Ohana means family, and family means no one gets left behind,” is very true with my family. We accept the fact that we all come from different backgrounds, have different beliefs and even look different. Despite all of those differences,  we still care for one another, even though we don’t have to. Family shouldn’t be defined by blood. If mine was, my life would lack the kind of love I’m used to.
That’s the beauty of family, sometimes you don’t get to pick them. My family is much like everyone else’s: dysfunctional, annoying and loud. But it is also filled with diversity and more love than I deserve. I am who I am today because of them.
What is your family like? Leave your comments below.
Featured image of the author’s diverse family.