It’s five years now since my granny passed away. She was a wonderful woman and I’m sure I’ll continue to miss her throughout my life. I’ve been thinking recently about the important role of grandparents and other relatives in a child’s life. I think the measure of a good family member might just be whether someone is loving, generous and self-confident enough to welcome new members into their family. I couldn’t have asked for a better granny, and this post is in memory of her.
Many people still think about family in the context of blood relations. It’s understandable why that is to some extent: when you have a child or grandchild who is related to you by blood, it’s easy to think about the genes you share and which bind you together.
Non-biological parents in LGBT+ families don’t have a genetic connection with their children, but their role in their children’s lives is still that of a parent. They’ve chosen to create and raise a child, to nurture and parent them. They’ve actively and voluntarily taken on the role and relationship of a loving mother or father.
For grandparents, aunts, uncles and other relatives, the experience is a different one. My granny wasn’t tied to me by blood, but neither did she deliberately dream me up into existence, as my non-biological mother Deborah did. My granny’s role was neither defined by genetics, nor purposefully crafted. What that meant is that she could have chosen to reject me, to refuse any relationship with me. She wasn’t my biological grandmother, and being a grandmother in any other way would have been her choice, a choice she could have made or resisted. Had she spurned a relationship with me, that would have been the end of the story. Blood didn’t link us, so our relationship was defined entirely by our personal connection, and if she didn’t want one, I would have been left without one.
Luckily, that’s not what happened in my family.
My granny and grandpa accepted me wholeheartedly. Visiting their house in rural Scotland, I was just one more of a big bunch of messy, noisy grandkids. They treated me and my brother Reuven exactly the same: even though their genetic relationship to the two of us was different (as Deborah carried Reuven and Leah carried me), their familial one was not.
Having grandparents, aunts and uncles who accepted me unconditionally as Deborah’s daughter has been extremely comforting. When family is defined as a biological fact, relationships can become fractured, but they can never be entirely called into question. When that biological connection isn’t there, there can be a lot more uncertainty about your position in a family.
When I’ve been up in Scotland visiting family, I’ve never felt different to my brother or cousins. And for that I thank my granny and grandpa. When I was born, at the end of the 1980’s, LGBT+ families were not too common. And yet my granny and grandpa never questioned my right to belong in their family, my position as Deborah’s daughter, or their role as grandparents to me. They took on that role willingly, and built a relationship with me. It wasn’t a role they created, but it’s one they accepted and enacted when they easily could have chosen differently.
I’ve always felt comfortable and confident in my own little family unit, but it’s nice to know there’s a bigger support system around us, and that I fit into Deborah’s family too. Homophobia is never easy to deal with, but it’s much worse when it comes from friends and family and there are certainly children out there who haven’t been as lucky as me, who have been rejected by their wider family because they possess different genes.
So that’s why my granny was an amazing woman – because she had room in her heart for one more grandkid, even if I didn’t physically resemble her. And that’s why when I have kids, some time in the future, I’ll remember to tell them how awesome their progressive, tolerant, loving and loveable great-grandmother was, back in the 1980’s. I feel privileged to have called my granny just that, precisely because she welcomed me and extended that privilege to me.