There is a jewelry box on my dresser that isn’t particularly functional or pretty, and it certainly isn’t worth much in dollars and cents. But it once sat on the dresser of my grandmother, and because of that, it’s more precious than gold to me. I also treasure the pair of diamond earrings that I keep there. Like the box itself, they wouldn’t garner a hefty price at a jewelry store, but because they once adorned the ears of my Memom, to me they are priceless.

But as much as I cherish these keepsakes, the hand-me-down I treasure most is what I learned about family from my grandmothers. Neither had an ideal childhood, and they had experiences along the way that would have hardened the hearts of most people. But somehow my grandmothers rose above the heartache and instead of bitterness, handed down to their families the invaluable knowledge that life doesn’t have to be perfect or even pretty, it just needs to be filled with moments you share with people you love.

And by watching my grandmothers share their love with others—many of whom were not related to us by blood—I also came to realize that family is more than genetics. My Memom’s best friend wasn’t related to us, but the love my Memom showed her and the love she showed in return for our whole clan was as family-like as any I’ve ever known. The ties that bound in the eyes of my mother’s mother had nothing to do with genetics at all; for her, family was about unconditional love. And she extended that love well beyond her own four walls, creating a place in her heart for anyone who was lonely or in need.

In addition to the role modeling of my grandmothers, I have been blessed with having both a stepfather who understood and a husband who understands what it takes to bind a family together. My stepfather welcomed me into his life and was a dad when I needed an extra one, a trusted advisor when I needed guidance, and a friend always. And now my husband, Paul, embraces his role as stepdad as well. Though we’re empty nesters, and I feel certain he was expecting the time and freedom that comes with that, he never hesitates to lend an ear or a hand when the phone rings and there’s a son on the other end with a problem to solve.

These special people in my life have taught me that we don’t need flesh and blood to form a family—that’s just not what family is. Family is the people in your life who want you in theirs; the ones who would do anything to see you smile and who love you no matter what.

In this regard, all of our families are much more alike than they are different—no matter what they may look like on the outside, no matter how blended. After all, it is love that makes a family. And we can all relate to that.