As we enter into the month of November, I anticipate that the goals of each of my readers will include finding greater gratitude in the pleasures of daily life. One thing I often notice teenagers taking for granted is the importance of family and the values that it has instilled in them. Oftentimes, teenagers have a fierce sense of independence; they would rather believe that their personality and principles have come solely from their own experiences, disregarding how much of who they are is actually shaped by their kin.
For each individual, family has a different definition and holds a unique weight. For some, it is merely blood; parents are just the people who raise a child and send them on their way the minute the candles burn out on their eighteenth birthday. There is the sibling relationship that goes no farther than the slamming of a door to keep the other out. Ultimately though, it cannot be denied that the people who raise you do play a large role in shaping how you grow. In my mind, it is my parents and brother who have taught me everything I know about how to treat others, the standards I should hold myself to, and even what it means to love and be loved. My family has been with me through thick and thin and continue to support me in anything that I need. I know that no matter what I do in life, as long as I do not lose sight of the morals instilled in me by my family, I will always have a support system to return to. This month, I choose to acknowledge everything my family has shown me. I am grateful for Dad, who I credit with placing a steady head on my shoulders–practicing the art of keeping an open mind and always looking at things with a fair and just attitude. I am grateful for my Mom, who has injected in me an innate capacity to take care of others. She has allowed me to taste the warmth and tenderness in a home-cooked meal, cherish the feeling of a warm hug on a chilly night, and appreciate the act of compromise, apologizing and guiding me to accept that being kind is more important than being right. And, of course, I am grateful for my brother. It is he who has made me the student that I am. More than that though, he serves as a constant reminder of balance in my life– how the eloquent, sharp medical student can also grip tightly to his goofy, childish, carefree side. I consider each member of my family an integral character in my life, to the point where I look in the mirror and see each part of them in myself. Family is something I will always put the utmost value on. They are my blood, but, they are also the people who I would do anything and be anything for.
Nonetheless, it has also occurred to me that for most of America, family is not a core value. This is not to say that Americans do not love their parents or value time spent with siblings. Rather, it is a dichotomy in culture. Individualism is at the center of this nation, and relying on family, to a large extent, does not play into this. As I have grown up in a diverse schooling system and made friends from all different cultures and backgrounds, I have come to observe how household relationships vary. For a long time, I thought that everyone sat around the table with their family for dinner at night. Never could I fathom the fact that some kids treated their parents as though they were subordinate. Even the way my friends said “mother” when I said “mommy” made me feel embarrassed and weird at times. The workings of every family are based on independent generations of tradition and it is not necessary or even worthwhile to try to change that. Still, considering how to improve or extend your relationship with family in any way is something I believe everyone should look towards.
To reiterate, I understand that sometimes a rocky relationship with parents and siblings can make bonding with or even appreciating them seem impossible. I am aware of my entitled situation and know that I am not qualified to give advice on such a delicate topic. Every family has its ups and downs, but there are some situations that must be handled with care, especially to protect one’s own mental and physical wellbeing. With that being said, at times, the easiest way to find gratitude for family is to simply broaden the scope of who we call “family”. Family does not only have to include the people with who we share DNA or a living space. For many, a better description of family is “those who have your back, the ones you feel connected to on a molecular level, whether or not you carry the same blood”. Of course, the people I call “family” are my direct relatives; but, there is also my “school family” and my “dance family”, how my music teacher is like my big sister, the way I find a second mother with a close family-friend. Whoever your “family” is, it is vital to recognize their importance in your life and reflect on how you can show them your gratitude.
The first step to recognizing and acknowledging the place of “family” (using the term very loosely now) in your life is to make time for them. It is my sound belief that actions speak louder than words. For instance, my mom wakes up every morning to give me a hug and say goodbye to me before I leave for school, and that is how I know she cares. It isn’t just saying “I appreciate you”, but showing the people you love that they mean something to you. When doing my monthly planning I wrote down some plans and goals I have: cook a meal for my parents and serve them on our balcony, continue texting and calling my brother to check up on him during a stressful period in life, overall, make more of an effort to appreciate my family in these last few years before I pack my bags and leave home. What you chose to do to show your affection will depend on your love language: gifts, physical touch, or quality time. It can be as simple as saying an extra “thank you” for everything your family does for you, and, if you want, it can be more. The beautiful thing about family is that they already know you love them, and any gesture, no matter how small, will always be a gratifying reminder.
Family is an ideal that is at the center of many teenagers’ lives. After all, we rely on our parents to put meals on the table and a roof over our heads. But, it can be incredibly easy to lose sight of all the extra things that our family does for us each day. Family is a community and, from my perspective, you can have one family… or multiple. The people you surround yourself with every day, that make you feel special and bring warmth to your life are your real family. Winter can be a cold and lonely season, so surround yourself with those who aren’t afraid to hold your hand when it becomes numb and embrace you as you grow a new winter skin, just as you should do for them.
“The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other’s life.” –Richard Bach
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