Guest column by Nishaa Sharma, sophomore strategic and corporate communications and peace studies major
I remember the exact moment I realized that the word “family” means something different for everybody.
I was a freshman, getting ready to go to my first high school dance which was our winter formal. My parents had been divorced for five years, and I was living with my sister, my mom and her boyfriend of three years. My father had just started dating his third girlfriend, but I only saw them every other weekend and on special occasions. He wasn’t exactly a hands-on parent, and after they split up, he became even less involved in our lives.
I was going with a guy friend to winter formal, and was trying on my heels when my mom’s boyfriend came in and jokingly reminded me that I didn’t know how to dance. He patiently led me step-by-step through a waltz as I stumbled around in my heels. That’s when it hit me that somebody doesn’t have to be your father to be your dad, and that you don’t have to be directly related to someone for them to be your family.
Ever since that moment, I’ve been willing to open myself up to new familial relationships, especially in my move from Oregon to California that has been so important to my growth. I’ve been lucky enough to find two best friends in California, and their family members have welcomed me into their homes with open arms. Even though my actual mom is far away, I have two second moms I can call if I need anything.
My best friends and their parents have opened their hearts to me in a way that makes me feel as though I have family here in California, too. From home-cooked macaroni and cheese and fried chicken, to surprise visits on weekends, Easter brunch and Thanksgiving dinners, they’ve been willing to share important days and occasions with me. My mom sends my best friends care packages, and we all talk on the phone together like we’ve known each other forever, even though it’s only been two years. When their parents say I’m like their daughter, I truly believe it. Just like when my mom’s boyfriend says I’m like his daughter, I believe it, too.
As a little kid, I always thought that family was a mom, a dad and siblings. When my parents split up and our family was separated, I didn’t think I’d ever have a complete family again. Now I have three honorary families: I have three moms, four dads, a ton of siblings and a whole bunch of grandparents stepping in to do what mine cannot anymore, and honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way.