My parents moved to Canada from the United States before I was born. I grew up with my parents and my brother, and my next closest relative was a 10-hour drive away. It was just us. One sibling, no extended family to speak of.
I don’t know what it would have been like to grow up surrounded by uncles and aunts and grandparents and cousins. I can imagine how nice it would be to be able to spend time with people who came to celebrate birthdays and holidays like mother’s day and father’s day and attend family brunches and even babysit when needed. My parents had no support and a small network of good friends. They had no in-laws local to contend with or rely on or share things with. It was just us.
But then, our family grew. My brother married my wonderful sister in law, and her family became our family. I didn’t just gain a sister. Her parents started inviting us to family occasions and they were invited to ours. Her sister became my friend. They became our extended family, filled with amazing people with their own family who we continue to celebrate occasions with.
And then, one day, about 5 years later, I got married. I didn’t just gain another sister and brother, but also wonderful in-laws who I’m proud to call family. A decade later, my brother in law got married and I gained yet another sister, and her parents, her sister and her sister’s husband and kids have become a part of our extended family too. The family just keeps growing.
You always hear jokes about in-laws and horror stories about how marrying into a family is a nightmare. Very rarely do you hear the good stories; the ones where people include you in their lives, share their joy and to invite you to become a part of their family. And rarely do you think about the family you gain when your siblings and your husband’s siblings find love and join new families too.
My family has grown exponentially, a few times over now, and with each new inclusion of a new family member, I manage to gain another amazing family into the fold of an already pretty amazing group of humans.
It’s an amazing thing that happens as you grow up and grow your own family; you know that when you marry a man, you marry his family. But many of us fail to realize the gravity of what that means and how big the web grows.
I realize that I am blessed. One of my friends didn’t even have her in-laws at her wedding, so toxic was the relationship. But for every one of those stories, I’d like to think there is a story like mine, where I can honestly say that my husband’s brother’s wife’s sister (think it through) is someone I’m happy to call a friend, much like my brother’s sister’s sister. My brothers-in-law buy my children birthday presents. We are all one giant, ever-growing family. From someone who grew up with one sibling and no local extended family, I get how special that is, how lucky I am, and how little I realized when my brother got married, and subsequently when I did, that a whole new door would open to me and my parents and my brother to grow the tiny little family unit we had grown used to.
Blood may be thicker than water, but the word family has grown to mean something entirely different from what I grew up thinking it was. The words ‘in-laws’ send shivers down many a spine. But not mine. My in-laws, all of them from both sides, give the term a good name.