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Creating Your Second-Chance Family of Choice

They provide us with deeply reparative relational experiences.

Key points

  • It’s never too late to have healthy, functional, loving relationships, even if these weren't modeled in one's family of origin.
  • Cultivating a second-chance family-of-choice can be deeply healing.
Denni Van Huis/Stocksy
Source: Denni Van Huis/Stocksy

Let’s face it: Some of us are born into families we wouldn’t simply wouldn’t choose.

Sometimes we wouldn’t choose these folks because we experienced abuse, neglect, trauma, or chaos around them or because of them.

Sometimes, though, and far more subtly, we wouldn’t choose them simply because we always felt we didn’t fit in with them.

We felt like the proverbial Ugly Duckling amongst a group of swans. The black sheep in a herd of white.

An other.

Be it childhood abuse or the experience of being other—whatever the reason—many of us wouldn’t necessarily choose the family-of-origins we are born into.

This is the painful powerlessness of childhood – the lack of agency around and dependency on the families we’re born or adopted into. But the beauty of growing up is that hopefully, with time, we do gain more agency and choice over who we include in our lives, and part of this may mean that, as we grow, we develop the opportunity to cultivate and nourish our own second-chance family-of-choice.

A second chance family-of choice is the people we get to choose to be in our lives versus who we are forced to be around when we’re young. They are not necessarily members of our family-of-origin (though they may include some of them), but they may feel more like family than anyone we’re related to ever has felt.

Sometimes these chosen people are flesh-and-blood real—the partners we date or marry, the children we have, the friends we hold tight around us, the mentors we seek out and keep as touchstones in our lives. And sometimes these second chance family-of-choice members may be pen-and-paper in nature or only known from afar.

Importantly, I think second chance, family-of-choice extends beyond people we allow into our lives. I think of a second chance family-of-choice part and parcel of a second chance life. This means that we seek out and not only look for people who fit us better, but also places and ways of being that fit us better.

A second-chance family-of-choice gives us an opportunity to have relational experiences we may otherwise have missed out on: healthy, functional, nourishing, good relationships (ideally the birthright of every child, but, unfortunately, often not the case).

We deserve to have good experiences in relationships and to feel loved for who we are, all of who we are. Cultivating a second chance family-of-choice gives us more of a chance to have this, though the process can be paradoxical.

Cultivating a second-chance family-of-choice (and way of life) is both simple and complex. It’s simple because, in cultivating a family-of-choice, you’re looking to invite people into your life who love you, who feel good to be around, who demonstrate healthy, functional relational behavior and who make you feel good and supported—ideally, in the way a family-of-origin would.

It is simple because you are seeking out the places and spaces and ways of being that match who you truly are versus just looking good on the outside or being the defaults you were raised to believe were possible and open to you.

But cultivating both a second-chance family-of-choice and way of life, while seemingly simple, is also profoundly complex and potentially very time consuming because of this fact: Children who are abused, neglected, shamed, or otherwise not supported in their emotional development early on often become adults who often lack an “internal sense of home” and don’t know what healthy, functional relationships can and should look like, and who struggle (sometimes deeply) with knowing who they are, what they need and want, and what and who would make them happy.

And so, in the process of cultivating that second-chance family-of-choice (and way of life) that seems so simple on the surface, there is often much healing work that needs to be done. This often includes facing the past, grieving and mourning what transpired, re-learning (or learning for the first time) what healthy, functional relationships look like, learning who we are and what we need and want, learning how to move toward the things and people we want, tolerating the vulnerability and risk we feel around this, and then practicing how to allow ourselves to accept good things.

And so the work is to know and seek out and keep healthy, functional relationships and to live a life that is more congruent with who we actually are and what we want can take time and effort. But it is worth it.

And ​​I think it’s important to remind you that you get to be sad and disappointed about your family-of-origin and the painful experiences you had with them even as you create a life and family that feels better for you. You can be sad and also grateful and happy. It’s not either/or; it’s both/and.

You can have your beautiful present life and still have sadness (or anger or any other emotion) about your past. Just keep in mind that you have choice and agency and the power to select who is in your life.