When my younger sister was in kindergarten she was obsessed with the Disney movie Lilo and Stitch. She dressed up as Stitch for Halloween, she had a Stitch themed birthday party at Red River Theatres where we all watched Lilo & Stitch and the DVD of the movie was permanently in our home DVD player. I remember this quote from the movie because we watched it so often that it was hard to forget it: “Ohana means family, family means no one gets left behind or forgotton.”
If you don’t know the movie, the summary of it goes something like this: There are two sisters living together because their parents died and the older sister is trying to keep them from being split up. The younger sister is Lilo and she is a free spirit who gets into trouble a lot and one day she meets a creature from out of space named Stitch. Lilo and Stitch and the older sister go through many adventures, and all help and protect each other and they discover at the end of the movie that the love they have for each other makes them family, even if one is an alien and the other two are humans.
I haven’t thought about this movie in about seven years but as I started to write this Kindness Column about expanding the definition of what family is, Lilo and Stitch came to mind and seemed like a great way to begin this column. Go watch the movie if you haven’t ever seen it, it’s great.
This year in my English 10 class with Mrs. Crumrine at CHS, we were fortunate enough to be able to to write narratives for the We Are America Project. After a lot of thought and wavering between topic ideas, I chose to write my narrative about what family means to me and how my understanding of family has changed as I have gotten older. This quote below is taken from my narrative, and summarizes my new understanding of what family is.
“Family isn’t just who you share DNA with or who looks like you or who’s related to you by blood. Family is who is there for you, who loves you and who makes a difference in your life. Family lasts forever and even when someone is gone from daily life, the lessons they taught you will stay with you forever. According to yourdictionary.com the definition of family is ‘is the group of people who share common ancestors’ but family for me is a group of people who share common love. The ancestors part isn’t required.”
In America in 2021 a narrow and limited definition of family such as the one from dictionary.com that only includes the people you share common ancestors or common DNA with just doesn’t seem to fit who we are as a nation. Such a narrow definition of family doesn’t include friends who are family, it doesn’t include anyone who is adopted or in foster care, it doesn’t include step parents/step families, and it doesn’t include immigrants who may come the USA without their families or who are separated at the border and depend on the kindness of new friends they meet who may become like family to them.
I wanted to know more about this idea of changing the definition of family to be more representative and a google search brought me to the 2020 article “Expanding the definition of family to reflect our realities” by Hillary Rose and Shannon Hebblethwaite. These authors discuss the importance of having inclusive definitions of family on a national level and explain that in five Canadian provinces the second Monday of February each year is officially Family Day. The authors go on to explain that in order to be sure that Family Day could include all people who consider one another family, The Vanier Institute of Ontario, Canada defines family this way: “A family consists of any combination of two or more people, bound together over time, by ties of mutual consent and/or birth, adoption or placement, and who take responsibility for various activities of daily living, including love.”
Think of the people in your own life you feel the most connected to? Are they all family who you share DNA with or who you share common ancestors with? Or are they people who you share common love with? Lilo & Stitch, the Vanier Institute, me in my We Are America narrative and I bet a lot of you too, would agree that family is so much more than just DNA and ancestors and way more about love. The focus for my Kindness Column is to challenge us all to think about what family means to us and to expand our understanding and definition of it to find ways in our own lives or within our communities or even nationally to be more inclusive. If we expand who we think of as family in our own personal lives, in our towns and cities and states and in our country as a whole, this would surely create more kindness because like Lilo and Stitch say “Ohana means family, family means no one is left behind or forgotten.” If we commit to leaving no one behind and commit to not forgetting people, think of the kindness that would bring to so many lives.
Changing our definition of family will look different for everyone and that’s ok. But if we as Americans could focus more on finding similarities that we have with one another, finding the things we have in common, and find ways to think of people we are not related to as “ohana,” I think it would result in much more kindness in this world.