“Family Matters: Not the TV Show”
Guest Writer: LaToya Hankins
Greeting and Salutations, Hot Tea and Ice Sippers! The holiday time is upon us with all the trappings that come with it. Travels plans will be made. Diets will be broken. And of course, the holidays are also the time that the concept of how much family matters is held up as a standard.
For many of us, family is a mother who complains either you put on too much weight, or it looks like you aren’t eating enough. It is that cousin who needs to borrow money and promises to pay you back when she gets her income tax check. Don’t forget about that one aunt who never misses a chance to ask when you are going to find a good woman and settle down, totally ignoring the fact that you have brought Darryl as your plus-one for ten years to every family gathering.
The coming together of those who share your last name and some of your facial features takes place throughout the year–but really starts being a constant factor during the latter half of the year. We gather around Thanksgiving tables, Christmas trees, Kwanzaa mkekas, and plates of pork and greens to mark the New Year. The families we are born into share laughs about old memories, shed tears for those no longer with us, and swap differing viewpoints about issues.
For every one of us who looks forward to spending time with our assigned families, there are those who shiver at the thoughts of spending one hour, minute, or second with our relatives. Those families shame, shun, and silence those who don’t meet their expectations. As the saying goes, no one can hurt you more than your family. And for so many, this is especially true during the holidays.
This year will mark the fourth holiday I will spend with my partner and my forty-fourth one with my mom. This year, however, will be my first one with a trio of young people I hope will become part of my larger family unit.
My partner and I recently went through foster parent treatment, and are looking to open our hearts and homes to a set of extended relatives seeking a safe place to grow and thrive. We are in the process of starting our own version of family.
We all have created families that go beyond the ones we are born into. For some, family is the neighbor who looked out for your place when you traveled out of town; and in return, you blessed that neighbor with the outpouring of your kitchen. For others, it is your work buddy, her wife, their kids and the baby daddy who makes the bomb mac and cheese–so they let him come around during the holidays. Still, for some, it’s your “boys” who have been with you through one wife, two boyfriends, three jobs, and more nights spent at the club that either of you will ever want to admit. However family shows up, the point is that it’s a family that we create.
I encourage us all to be open to redefining our views of family, and challenge us to keep that definition fluid as life changes. Accept what life hands you, and shape it to ensure that you always have someone around you that supports and nurtures you.
In creating a new family structure, embrace the fact that you don’t have to spend extraordinary amounts of time with folks who don’t love you for who you are at this stage in your life. There are too many ride-sharing programs and public transportation options to spend a minute more with someone who doesn’t celebrate you. Family obligations are burdens that sometime have to be carried, but guard your spirit as much as you can to avoid it breaking you. While Uncle Skinny is going on about whatever his liquor is telling him to talk about, turn your mind toward the gathering you are going to have with the family that loves you.
The key to the family is not if you all look alike or even think alike. The value of creating your own version of family is that you understand each other and want the best things possible. I challenge us to respect the family we have created, and flourish from the strength it gives to accept ourselves.
So this year, when I grasp hands to say the traditional Thanksgiving recitations of things for which I am grateful, there will be three extra names and experiences I will list. And, I will do this surrounded by someone who shares my last name, someone who shares my home, and someone who shares my hope for a future filled with great things.
Until next time, Adios, au revoir, and I “holler.”
LaToya Hankins is the author of SBF Seeking, and K-Rho: The Sweet Taste of Sisterhood. Currently, LaToya is an employee of the State of North Carolina’s Health and Human Services department. Prior to that, she worked for nearly a decade in the field of journalism. An East Carolina University graduate, LaToya earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism, with a minor in political science.
During her college career, LaToya became a member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc., and currently is the president of the Chapel Hill, N. C. graduate chapter. As well, she is a co-founder and currently serves as the chair of Shades of Pride (SOP), a LGBTQ organization that hosts a yearly event in the Triangle area. SOP’s mission is to create opportunities to acknowledge and celebrate the diversity of North Carolina’s LGBTQ communities. You may reach La Toya at her on line home, www.latoyahankins.com; email, firstname.lastname@example.org; Facebook, www.facebook.com/latoyahankins; and on Twitter, @hankinslatoya.