My parents’ divorce taught me family isn’t defined by blood

How I learned the limitations of the conventional definition of ‘family’

Mikayla believes family extends beyond that of blood relatives.

I remember the day like it was yesterday. It was 2007, and I was watching my older brother play the new Sonic the Hedgehog game on his GameCube. It was then that my parents came downstairs and told us they were separating. 

“We’re no longer living together,” they said. 

At the time, I didn’t understand the concept of “separation.” All I knew was I had two new chores every Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday.

First, I packed all my things into a big, blue bag that travelled with me and my brother as we switched between my parents’ houses. Then, I cleaned two rooms—one at my mom’s and one at my dad’s—when all my friends only had one room to worry about. 

For about two years after that day in 2007, I was in limbo. I didn’t know if my parents were ever getting back together, or if this event was only temporary. I’d think to myself: “Maybe one day my parents will live in the same house again like all the other kids in my class.”

Grappling with my thoughts proved difficult, which isn’t surprising—I was a child coping with adult issues. However, these wonderings abruptly ended when my parents officially finalized their divorce two years later. People felt bad when I told them this news, but it brought me clarity. 

I hate uncertainty. My parents officially filing for divorce returned structure to my life, so I refuse to look back at this time with sadness like people expect. 

Although my parents officially split and did everything in their power to make their divorce easy for my brother and me, a looming sense of emptiness and isolation persisted, regardless of how many pamphlets adults shoved in my face or open conversations I had. 

These feelings became easier to cope with after my father introduced me to who—even though I didn’t know it at the time—would be my future sister. After laughing on the teacup ride at the Woodbine Mall, Natalie and I became instant best friends.

We did everything together. We had sleepovers, shared secrets, and laughed at inside jokes that only we found funny. She became the little sister I never asked for but always dreamed of having.  

Natalie filled a hole in my life that I didn’t even realize was there—for that, I will always be thankful.

There was only one problem: Natalie lived two hours away. I rarely saw her, and every time she left, I felt like the world was ripping my little sister away. So, I was ecstatic in grade six when her mom finally decided it was time they moved in with us.

Everything happens for a reason, even losing someone. People fall out of relationships and that’s okay. My parents weren’t meant for each other, and I admire them for being mature enough to realize that.

I’m incredibly fortunate to have a mother and father who love me unconditionally and model good decisions. From them, I learned to always prioritize my mental health—the first step is not to fear difficult decisions that are in the best interest of myself and those I love. 

When I tell people my parents are divorced—even today—they look at me like I lost something. “I’m so sorry,” they say. 

Well, I’m not. I didn’t lose anything. Instead, I look back at this event with gratitude because I gained new, loving relationships. 

I learned the term “family” is a socially-constructed, limited concept that relies solely on blood. Natalie is just as much my sibling as my biological brother Tyler is, and the two people my parents married are also my parents. 

I hate the word “step” for this reason. “Stepsister” implies Natalie is not my actual sister. However, Natalie and I have a closer relationship than many blood-related sisters because we’re also best friends. If that’s not a real sister, I don’t know what is. 

I define “family” as the people in my life who I share a mutual love with, even if the dictionary says otherwise. Family extends beyond people who live in the same house; it also exists in friendships.

My friends are my family too, because they support me in ways some of my blood relatives can’t. I could never talk to some of these relatives about my life’s problems while eating pizza, but I know my best friend’s door is always open.  

I love all my friends because of this support. Even though I love them differently than my siblings and parents, they’re still my family. You can’t accurately measure relationships by comparison because each one thrives in unique conditions. 

There are many members in my family, and I couldn’t be more thankful for that day in 2007 because it made me realize this idea of family is possible.

Don’t say sorry the next time someone tells you their parents are divorced. Instead, continue the conversation in a way that doesn’t make them feel like you pity or think of them differently. 

If you’re struggling because your parents are getting a divorce or you’re dealing with other issues surrounding the domestic sphere, I see and hear you. You’re not alone.

Although it’s scary, consider leaning on those around you. If you don’t have any trusting relationships, try to meet new people with whom you can form those bonds. Building new relationships and developing old ones saved me. 

My family may be unconventional, but that doesn’t make it any less worthy of the title. I found family in friends, and it was one of the best things I ever did. 

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