Previously I wrote a post about friends not being like family, and that being the whole point of friendships and how they work. I stand by the article, however it raised the question, what if you actually want your friends to be like your family?
Some folks, for a myriad of reasons, are not close with their family. This may refer to closeness in terms of physical location, or emotional ties, or both. Such people may seek to form strong bonds with friends in an attempt to make a family of sorts, of their own.
I grew up in a small family, because my parents emigrated here when my mother was pregnant with me. The rest of the extended family were still in the UK, with only my parents and my brother being in Australia. If my parents hadn’t set about making friends, it would have been a pretty isolated existence. Fortunately, when they emigrated here originally, they were housed in flats with other families in similar circumstances, and the friendships that were born there lasted the distance.
I grew up calling some of these people Aunty and Uncle, a habit which still sometimes sticks, and know that my parents consider them like family. They get up at stupid o’clock to take one another to the airport to visit home, entertain each other on a weekly basis for Sunday dinners, go on holidays together, visit hospitals, remember and celebrate birthdays and offer love and support to one another in all the ways that you can. Nothing is too much, if they can help, they will.
It really is a beautiful thing. My parents used to fret because I didn’t really know my actual relatives. Of course, they had taken me back to meet them after I was born, several times over the years, and some had come down under to visit us too. Those memories are special to me, but still they were visitors in my life, not permanent residents. I didn’t know them, or even feel comfortable with them like I did with the friends who we saw regularly. I never saw the distance between my actual family as a deficit because I didn’t feel short of family at all.
To be fair, this was all I had known, but my older brother remembered life with the family, and never much seemed to notice lacking in our lives from it either. If friends really are the family that you choose for yourselves, then my family had chosen well. These friendships still exist, and I must say, probably without much of the drama you may see in an actual family.
Which brings me to my next point…. Friends are NOT family! And actually this may be one of the best things about the family you choose for yourself. The expectations that sometimes burden us with actual family aren’t so prevalent here, because we choose to stay connected to these people. They don’t love us because they have to, but because they choose to. We do not assume to over involve ourselves in one another’s business, and respect the privacy and boundaries that exist simply because we are not actually related.
I’m not sure if my parents, or any of their friends, EXPECTED that they would still be close friends nearly 40 years later, it just so happened that way. There were indeed periods when they saw less of one another because life gets busy when everyone works and are raising kids. There were cons, like not feeling you could ask or expect too much in terms of financial support or babysitting etc… because these people were not family, they did not take each other for granted. But should we really consider that a con? I think not. These people were there for each other, when called upon, and actively offered support where they could…. However they also had their own lives to lead, and respected the autonomy of one another individually.
My parents created a very healthy environment within the family they chose for themselves. While they felt welcome to pop in unannounced for example, they didn’t make a bad habit of it. They never outstayed their welcome or took advantage of their friends generosity. They also offered to help wherever they could and never wanted their friends to feel under appreciated.
Although it is less common these days for friendships to last the distance the way these friendships did, it is still entirely possible. So what do I feel was the leading contributing factor to their success? That all the families involved were in a similar predicament. They were all subconsciously looking for a new family and valued the same things born from it. They came together in a time of need, partly out of necessity as much as desire. They held on tightly because for a time all they had was each other.
Many of my friends feel it is the highest compliment to be likened to a sister, or an Aunt to their friends’ kids etc... So, if you are looking to fill gaps in your lives where family isn’t, for whatever reason, choose your friends carefully. You may value reliability, whereas your friend with a huge family to rely upon may value spontaneity, for example. You may be looking for stability while the other person is just looking for fun. Of course it is hard to know exactly which friends are going to last the distance, and only time will tell, but I like to believe that if you depend upon each other in equal measure that is a pretty good start.
So make sure you are someone who can be relied upon, who offers support and puts in effort for no other reason than that you care, if you wish to attract people who do the same. You may find someone who has a large family that welcomes you in, or you may find people in similar circumstances who value friendships that little bit more and share the same expectations of it.
As long as you respect that these people are NOT actually family, you may find more success than people who expect too much, and take one another for granted, because they ARE family! Practice good LIStening, NATural compassion, JENuine concern and interest, EMpathy, support and BELief in them, reliability, SHARing, trust, avoid sLYNess, or MIScommunications, and treat them like gold not like BRONze. That recipe has worked pretty well for my sisterhood!
Are friends the family you choose for yourself, or are family the friends you didn’t choose but are grateful to have. Don’t take either for granted, or expect too much and maybe you won’t be disappointed either way?
Your best Friend ForNever