The Importance of Creating Your Secondary Family

When I was 11, Mom got the call that Gram was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. In that moment, Mom promised that she would never put Gram in a nursing home. Two weeks later, Gram moved in. For the next seven years until she died, we spent our days dressing her, feeding her and chasing after her when she wanted to go for a walk at 3am. Through it all, my mom stayed true to her promise.

Before my grandmother passed away, I suggested to my mom that we get matching tattoos in honor of Gram and all that we had been through taking care of her. She just shrugged it off. I ended up getting a tattoo by myself in memory of my grandmom, Margarita. It’s an ornate letter M, with angel wings inside.

Years later…

I was sitting in bumper to bumper, standstill, traffic in the Lincoln Tunnel. I was on the phone with my mom. I told her I wanted to talk to her about my childhood, how I felt robbed, confused and alone. I had to grow up really fast and had questions and gaps I wanted to fill. She said, “Let me stop you right there. If you are looking for an emotional connection with me, it won’t happen.”

I know she did the best she could. She made me the strong, independent, confident woman I am today. But the emotional connection I craved would not be fulfilled by her or the family I was born into.

Two years ago…

I sleepily stumbled out of a middle seat on a 6 hour red-eye flight from Seattle to NYC. I waited almost an hour for an Uber to sit in another hour in traffic. I finally got home to my boyfriend, only for him to tell me, “I think you should move out.” I called my friends, Jen and Sam, who I only met three months earlier, and ugly cried in their laps. With pizza.  

Today, we joke that we went from 0 to besties in two pizza slices. Most girls reach out to their moms when someone breaks their heart. I knew I couldn’t do that.

A few months later, the three of us girls were itching for a tattoo. We settled on a place in Brooklyn and sent tons of pictures back and forth. When all three of us had our new tattoos, Jen held up her arm. She said, “This tattoo is for my brothers, and now this one is for my sisters.”

I finally got my matching tattoo. It just wasn’t with my mom like I had originally planned.

Jen, Sam and I may not have spent holidays together as children, but I know their door will always be open if I show up on Christmas Day. They may not have been at my high school graduation, but they saw me cross the finish line at my first half marathon. They may not have seen me lose my first tooth, but they did see me lose my last boyfriend. 

This is the family I found.

What became clear, after over three decades on this earth, is that I don’t have to do this alone. I don’t have to go through the sad stuff alone or enjoy the good times by myself.

If my story didn’t convince you that it’s important to create your own family in life, maybe these statistics will.

The Stats

  • On college campuses, all the research tells us that the more connected college students are to each other, the higher their grades and retention rates are and they have more successes after graduation.
  • In offices, Gallup found that people who have a bestie at the office are seven times more likely to produce higher quality work.
  • In life, loneliness increases your chance of death by 40%

These connections, these non-familial relationships, are life-changing, and even life saving. It’s simple: Humans need Humans. We are social beings. I don’t know about you, but I love the things I do in life more because of who I experience them with. 

A simple sentence I recently wrote in my journal still rings true: While I love the family I was born into, I lean on the family I found.

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