When I was born, I became part of my “real” family. It didn’t matter that it was made up of a married couple with adopted children. My family taught me about life and love. Through them I learned values and work ethic. All the times they ran me back and forth to school when I didn’t want to ride the bus and all the projects they helped me with showed me that family is dependable.

My dad had a rather large family, and every year on Christmas Eve we would get together with them to eat dinner and exchange gifts. We were always rushing to beat Santa to our house. Nights like that taught me that families are special, and it is important to make memories together. Families should follow traditions whether they were handed down from past generations or you make your own. By the time I was nine years old my mother had endured several surgeries and my grandfather had passed away. Going through those experiences taught me that family is there for you in both the good times and the bad.

Many years later when it was time to start my own family, I knew exactly how I wanted to be. I knew as parents we needed to be open and honest. I knew that we needed to lead by example, the way I had been taught.

The word “family” is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a group of individuals living under one roof.” There is no mention of biology, race, gender, etc. That is because you can make your own family with whomever you choose. You can raise children by yourself or you can find someone to share parenting responsibilities with. There are plenty of options when it comes to having children. You can have them biologically or via a surrogate. You can adopt from the United States or another country. None of these options make you any less of a family. It really doesn’t matter how your family came together or why. It doesn’t matter what your family looks like. The important thing is that you love and take care of each other. Family should lift each other up and encourage you to be your best.

Even though you can choose who is in your family, that doesn’t mean that family can be just anyone. I really don’t like to hear people being referred to as family who aren’t. That is not to say a mom or dad can’t have a friend who a child calls “aunt” or “uncle,” but the position must hold value. It seems our society has taken to calling every passerby “brother” or “cousin.” It’s too much. If everyone is called family, then it’s not special. Family should be the most important thing. It’s an elite group of people–your people. You shouldn’t trivialize it by extending it to everyone.

In a family with two parents, both need to work as one. You have to show that the child can trust you with their secrets and fears. You are in charge of their physical and emotional well being. Always be supportive and helpful. Nurture their relationships with your extended family. Encourage grandparents, aunts, and uncles to participate in your child’s life. By seeing how you treat them, and others, they will learn how to treat their own families one day.

Protect them from the people who cannot handle the responsibilities that come with being family. If you have people in your life who are consistently letting your child down and tearing away at or demeaning your family, get some distance. Kids are going to learn what they see. If someone is always unreliable or always negative, set some space accordingly. Cultivate your family to be a positive example for future generations to follow.