Every Thanksgiving my elementary school teachers would ask us to make a list of what we were thankful for that year. Most of my classmates, myself included, would say “friends, pets, the Earth, etc.” Those things varied from person to person depending on what we were into, what sports we were playing, or even if we had pets. But, one remained consistent from one student to the next: “Family.” We were all thankful for our families. It was easy to say that though, because, in the grand scheme of life, we hadn’t had many experiences yet; experiences that would draw our focus away from family.

“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” ― Leo Tolstoy

Entering my teenage years, family fell to the wayside with being an all-encompassing factor in my life. As I got deeply involved in school, soccer, friends, and teenage angst, I began to focus more on myself and less on those around me. A small argument or misunderstanding with my mother turned into a battle of who could stay mad at the other for the longest to solve nothing and reach no understanding. Soccer became the pillar of success that I had to reach and maintain no matter the cost, according to my father, and anything less than my best was unacceptable. My social life, which was already hard to maintain, was made even more difficult as I gave way to my introvert tendencies and would stay home eating and sleeping instead of going out, even if I didn’t have soccer. Basically, I became a ball of insecurity and anxiety over wanting to meet every expectation. Whenever something didn’t go according to plan, I thought the universe was deliberately trying to make me miserable.

In my despair, I didn’t notice that my family remained consistent and present throughout my teenage tantrums and lack of empathy. When I started improving and progressing at soccer, my parents were my biggest fans and supporters, attending every game and tournament, making sure I was available for every practice, and paying for all my travel and equipment expenses. When I wanted to take classes that weren’t originally planned, they never questioned my decisions, but trusted that I would continue to be the best student I could be. And, whenever I would be consumed by drama or disagreements with friends, they were always there to give me hugs, reassure me that I wasn’t a terrible person, and create some of my best memories.

They were my continuous support system, always present, never absent, even though I wouldn’t recognize as such.

It wasn’t until I moved three hours (200 miles) from home, to university that I realized just how much I wanted and needed that ever-present support to function and prevent me from succumbing to self-doubt. Moving to a new city in a different part of the state where people and ideologies and ways of life were so different from what I was used to was a shock I wasn’t prepared for. Homesickness became a daily struggle for me, in addition to discovering who I was a person, student, and young adult, trying to make friends, and taking on more responsibility than I ever thought I would have to deal with. There were many nights when the stress would overwhelm me and I would call my parents crying. I sent “I miss you” text messages almost daily. And, weekends home were better than any vacation. However, they also meant that the drive back to university might be accompanied by a round of tears on the highway.

“I sustain myself with the love of family.” ― Maya Angelou

I can honestly say that my family both kept me in school and kept me making the best of my situation this past year. Without them, I probably would've digressed back into self-pity and teenage angst instead of using the experience to make me a better person.

Now, since I’ve transferred schools and will be closer to home, I’ve come to realize that time with your family is truly precious and something to be conscious of. Because even though I’ve been home for the summer, I haven’t seen much of my family. Between working, trying to spend time with friends, and my sister’s busy sports schedule, our paths barely cross for family dinners. That’s why it’s important to be present at family events whenever you can be. Whether it’s a basketball game, a family dinner, or just going grocery shopping, don’t make weak excuses to stay home. Go out with your parents and siblings, talk to them, because one day you’re going to want to have a long conversation about life or want a deep relationship and it’s not going to be possible.

Families aren’t supposed to be perfect, as Tolstoy said. But there’s love and a bond that is unbreakable and should be valued above all else. Because when everything goes wrong, and it feels like no one is on your side and no one understands, family is always there to accept your faults and love you anyway. So now, when someone asks me what I’m thankful for at Thanksgiving, family once again tops the list, but for a more profound reason than for lack of other things.

Published by Anne Long