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The Family We Choose

by Tammi Leader
 ∙ Jul 13 ∙ 6 Min Read

I am confident – or hopeful, at least – that I am not the first person in your life encouraging you to exercise your right  to PICK YOUR FAMILY. Today, I’m popping in to share with you a summer story of my own chosen family, in case it sparks something for you and yours. 

Last month, I got to take the trip of a lifetime, for my forever best friend’s daughter’s wedding in Lake Como, Italy. With my daughter officiating. 

the trip, for all of us, was a reminder, hit home by two years in isolation: you don’t have to share DNA to create your own “family.”

In 1978, I found the core of my family of choice in Sheri and Treecy, whom I met at a party at the University of Florida in Gainesville on one fated Valentine’s day. Barely 20 then – kids ourselves – we could never have imagined that one day we could ultimately raise our kids, whose ages range 12 years, together. 

Both of my besties lost their parents way too young, and I loved “grandparenting” in mine to sit at the helm of this growing group. Alongside my mom, Joan “Grandy” Leader – a staple of Campowerment lore – was Sheri’s Uncle Gene London, a once famous Philadelphia kids’ show host, whose love for children was not lost on all of ours. Note: my dad was still around, but happy to cede the emotional throne to Uncle Gene. For a very long time, my mom and Uncle Gene served as the emotional Matriarch and Patriarch of this hodge-podge of humans, all now in their 20s and 30s, each one adding his/her/their own uniquely special (and spicy) sauce to this unexplainably delicious gumbo that, over the years, has morphed into THIS:

This picture was taken the second week of June, and it’s of all of us in an Italian dreamland. 

Though the darkness of the current political and economic climate made it feel almost sacrilege to plan a vacation abroad, we had little doubt this joyous occasion for (Sheri’s daughter) Jordyn and (her incredible mate) Russell had to be celebrated. Coming together after a few rough years, we were beyond excited to reconnect and so ready to unleash our collective energy on each other (we were hard to miss… we made up more than a third of the wedding party!). 

Not Sheri, Treecy, my sister Jodi, nor I could have predicted the impact of this epic trip on our entire famiglia. Watching the next generation step in, to take care of us now was everything. From shlepping our luggage to refilling our drinks, to escorting our aging asses down those steep Italian steps, there was always one of them there to look after each of us. And we’re knee deep into our 60s now, but we rallied with the best of them at their rowdy after-party in the streets of Milan ‘til almost the end. (So glad someone found my shoes on the bus bench!) 

Talk about new beginnings…

If our lives had to end right now, the four of us (and their spouses!) could die knowing that from now to whenever, our children are bonded for life. And the next generation is off and running…

Not sure if we raised all these incredible kids, or if they raised us, but these relationships were not built overnight. Our collective families shared dozens of vacations over the years, with the kids, one by one as they grew, following each other every summer, to sleepaway camp. The camp owner once told me everyone there thought our kids were “real” cousins, because ‘that was their story and they all stuck to it!’

Over many years, together, our family built traditions without even realizing how seriously our kids would take them. Like our annual Thanksgiving gratitude circle, where our growingly intense (and tearful) “thankfuls” often still go til way past midnight. 

Sometimes, especially these days, it can feel like the sky is falling. For you or for the countless numbers of people who have been pushing hard through some pretty big stuff of late – a reminder: no matter how gloomy things get in the real world – and the issues we’re up against are very real – everyone deserves to find moments of BLISS, and equally, every one of us deserves to spend restful quality time with our people.

If I learned anything on this Eurotrip of a lifetime with my people, during some of the most trying times that push me to accept the depths this f*ed up system we’ve allowed to come to life:

We’ve only got one life to live (this way at least), and we’ve GOT to spend it making our people our family.

Now more than ever – permission: If your genetic family’s values don’t align with yours, find your people who do.

The best way to stay truly connected to yourself is to share the relaxed, best parts of you with those who see you…people you love, no matter who they are or where you found them. And don’t wait for an invitation to reconnect with them.  

And get this: You get to pick those who you spend your time with. You know who they are. 

We spent a lot of time retreating during a global pandemic we could have never been prepared for, and maybe some of us have gotten a little too comfy on the couch? Or decided, given the tough conversations required to maintain deep relationships these days, maybe it’s easier to just…not? 

If that’s you, quite frankly: it’s enough already! Your people need you as much as you need them, so be the one to pick up the phone and rally your peeps to come meet you somewhere, even if it’s at the park in your neighborhood!

You’ll be surprised by how much your blood pressure will drop just by giving yourself a time out from the day to day grind. To just BE with loved ones you haven’t seen in way too long. If you can swing it, don’t wait for the perfect time to recharge. Cuz it’s never coming. And if you’re reading this still, I know you know that. 

So, get moving. Life is short; spend your time with people who allow you to become the very best version of yourself. Wherever you’re going. 

Find your chosen family with us here!

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