What does ‘family’ really mean?

Merry Christmas!  Thanks for spending a few minutes of your day with me.  I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to find the time to write today, but since my husband is taking a quick power nap, I decided to share some observations from the past couple of days.

There are always certain ideals and themes centered around holidays we celebrate.  Many of our holidays are specific to the United States, but Christmas is unique in that people from all around the world use this day in commemoration of the birth of Jesus Christ.  Although the customs may change a bit from one country to another, the scene is generally the same;  Mary and Joseph in a stable, leaning tenderly over their newborn son, Jesus, while travelers from afar bring gifts.   It is one of the few iconic representations that has not lost its original beauty or meaning…and its arms are long reaching.  Even those who may not actively go to church,  profess or practice any specific faith, or not be particularly close to their family, often use this holiday as a time to (re)engage with their families.

Normally, I am so deeply ensconced in my own family Christmas, working hard to keep all of our traditions and religious ideals alive and active, that I don’t pay too much attention to how others may choose to celebrate their individual holidays.  But this year, I have seen things differently.  Maybe my eyes were opened by the unusual family thing a couple of months ago (see previous post).  It seems there is always a silver lining in all difficult things, doesn’t it?

Have you ever stopped to think about what exactly ‘family’ means?  Just for fun, I looked up the historical origins of the word [I can’t help it, I am still an eager student!].  I was so surprised to find that it only came to mean ‘connected by blood’ in 1667.  Prior to that, the word family included all members of a household including extended visitors and servants [makes perfect sense to me].  A couple of other interesting tidbits: prior to 1856, the term ‘family man’ actually meant ‘thief’ as in ‘a circle of thieves’ (YIKES-and I thought I was complimenting my husband) and  the buzzword ‘family values’ only became a catch phrase in 1966.  As you can see, the word family has  transformed frequently over the centuries, and our modern ideals of ‘family’ are greatly different than earlier centuries.

In this new millennium, ‘family’ has seen even greater changes as we have learned as a society to accept and embrace relationships that we previously ignored or feared: same sex unions, transgender relationships, racially mixed relationships and adoptive children from all over the world.  The face of family has indeed changed and those of us who have changed with it have opened our worlds to greater love and opportunites.

But, there is one group of ‘family’ that I believe is largely under appreciated and overlooked.  That is the family of your workplace.  Many people spend the largest part of their adult lives in their workplace.  They develop relationships that are very meaningful.

This particular awareness came from a Christmas dinner party I threw the other night for two of my dearest friends and their significant others.  One of those friends, Linda,  recently returned to a job she had left earlier in the year.   When my other friend, Karen, was chastising her about returning to a job with ridiculously long hours that virtually allowed her no personal life whatsoever,  Linda’s significant other joined in the diatribe.   Because it was a Christmas party and the conversation was taking a slightly negative turn, I jokingly said that she had returned because we are drawn to bad relationships.  That comment drew some laughter, but that made me feel even more uncomfortable about the conversation.  Even though it was all spoken out of love and concern, it still felt very wrong and now I think I know why.

You see, Linda is one of the most kind and generous people I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing.  I feel greatly blessed to have her in my life and to call her my friend.  Both Karen and I met Linda because we once worked for her and we each love her dearly.  She was/is that kind of boss—the one who gives 100% of her being to her workplace and her employees.  Linda is not married and has no children through circumstances of life.  But when I worked for her, I remember thinking that she treated every single employee as if they were her children; trust me, no mother could do better.

As the conversation of the other evening has rolled around in my mind (I can never let go of an unsettling conversation until I can make peace with it), it occurred to me that the company [for whom Linda works] is her family.  Yes, she puts in incredibly long hours but she does so with an eager countenance and loving heart, in a similar fashion to the way a mother nurtures her family.  How many times have you heard me whining about the long hours and hard work my family requires?  How many times have you, yourself, lamented about the never ending demands of family?  That doesn’t mean we don’t want to be with them…just that it is hard and sometimes thankless work.

The people who work for Linda love her and remain loyal to her even after they’ve left the company, just as children still love and remain loyal to their parents after they’ve left home.  And how does it make you feel when someone tells you that you are doing too much for your family?  If you are anything like me, you are thinking “who are you to tell me how I should take care of my family?”  Although Linda is far too kind to ever say something like that to one of us, I can’t help but wonder if those words have ever crossed her mind.  If so, she is right.

Recently, in a class I took, one of my classmates was struggling with the loss of a beloved manager.  Sometimes, the people we work with [or for], are our family.  They may be our only family, or an extension to our family; but either way, a very meaningful bond can exist.  And isn’t that what ‘family’ is?  A very meaningful bond?  Have you ever lost a job and literally mourned the loss of your co-worker relationships?  I know I have.

As the matriarch of a very large family, I am here to tell you that big is beautiful.  Embrace all of the ‘extra’ people who are thrown into your life: by happenstance, through work, by marriage, through love.  Each one of them has great value, beauty and diversity to enhance the quality of your own life.  In loving and accepting others, we grow and change.  Our lives becomes so much richer when we open our hearts and minds to the endless possibilities.b4db16e76d14f147527afb6723132a95

I hope you all were able to share this holiday with people you would call family and that it was filled with joy.  Here are a few pictures of my own family’s joy.

Most of the family…
The rest of the family…

Holiday and family blessings to all!



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