A few weeks ago, my soon-to-be 4-year-old and I were having a talk about families.

“Who’s in our family?” I asked him.

He thought for a moment, and then started making a list.

“Mama. Da. Me. Nana and Poppy and Darlene. Nonna and Papa.” Then he paused for a moment and added, “Oh, and Aunt Erin.”

I couldn’t help but smile. “Aunt” Erin isn’t family—she’s my best friend who I’ve known since teasing your bangs was a thing and Caboodles were the preferred storage system for organizing all your lip gloss. And the fact that my son had listed her as part of our immediate family, right up there with me and all of his grandparents? It made my heart melt a little bit.

This business of raising tiny humans is no small feat, mamas, and I’m not ashamed to admit I can use all the help I can get. But that help isn’t as easy to come by as it once was. It often feels like the village is no more.

Many of us are raising our families thousands of miles away from our own mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, and sisters and brothers. Social media connects us, yet can also make us feel like we’re doing it all wrong.

For many of us, our friends have become our family. They are the glue that holds our day-to-day lives together, the one constant in the ebb and flow of the ever-changing seasons of motherhood—and we couldn’t imagine raising our own kids without them by our side.

So to all my friends: thank you for being an aunt to my son.

Thank you, without even being asked, for volunteering to watch him during the seventh snow day of the year, which also happened to coincide with the day my smart phone decided to self destruct, so I could make an emergency dash to the store to get it fixed without an impatient preschooler by my side.

Thank you for showing up for every birthday party, for texting me to ask how he’s doing every time he’s sick, and for hanging the picture he drew on your refrigerator, right next to the ones your own kids made for you.

Thank you for carpooling, for FaceTiming, for changing his diaper when he was smelly and for giving him a bottle when you knew I needed a break.

Thank you for being a constant, positive and loving presence in his life, just like you are in mine. For showing him that, sometimes, the bond of friendship bests that of blood.

As an only child, I don’t know the feeling of the sibling bond that so many others cherish. Some people say I’m missing out—and maybe they’re right. But do you know what I say?

I say that friends are the family you choose.

I say that watching the relationship that my son has with his “aunts” is one of my greatest joys as a mother—to see how the amazing, beautiful, powerful women I am lucky enough to have in my life are now also such an important part of his? It is truly a gift.

It takes a village, mamas. And I wouldn’t trade mine for the world.