In fourth grade, I remember sitting wide-eyed as my classmate talked about her mom. She said that if her uncle died, she would be devastated but if her mom died, she wouldn’t be as hurt. She then made the bold statement that she loved her uncle more than her mother. I remember thinking that this was the craziest thing I’d ever heard. I remember thinking that everyone in this world loved their mom. I blurted out to her, “You have to love your mom more.” It wasn’t until I was in high school that I began to understand that everyone’s family structure was not necessarily like my own. It became clear when I began working for a non-profit organization called, Children’s Express. As teenagers, we traveled all over the country to interview people. Our goal was to give the statistics a face. That’s when I met “Claire”. She was pale with short hair and glasses. At the age of fifteen, she had acne all over her face. But it was what I saw sixty seconds after I sat down that stayed with me. Just beneath her wrist, Claire had her entire first name carved into her arm. I couldn't imagine how anyone could do that to themselves. In the next thirty minutes, I found out why.
I immediately asked her about her arm. I had never even heard of the term "cutting" before. As her story unfolded, I learned more about why she was at the group home. On her twelfth birthday, her father came into her room and said, “It’s time for you to learn about what you will need to do for your husband.” And with those words, she was raped by her father.
The abuse continued with her father bringing his friend and his friend’s 16 year-old son to sleep with her. When Claire told her mom what happened, her mother refused to believe her. After two suicide attempts, Claire was finally pulled from her home. When I met her, she was living in a group home in Texas. Her father had never been removed from the home and did not receive jail time.
Claire’s experience taught me that the definition of love and of family, can be completely different depending on who you talk to. In second grade, my paradigm of love, family, and the world was drastically different from the way it is right now. I have learned that some people love their uncles more than their moms, and they have every right to do so. As we meet people who may not be in touch with their mom, dad, or various family members, it is important for us to remember that not all families are like ours. Some individuals do not communicate with certain family members for specific reasons. It is unfair to measure our own experiences against the experiences of others. There may be experiences, memories, emotions, and unresolved issues in their lives that we may never be privy to. We shouldn’t judge others by the family they have in their lives, but by the qualities and characteristics they possess today.