Ever think about whether you’d be friends with the members of your family of origin if they weren’t related to you? I bet many of you would shout a resounding negative on that, while others might want to say it but feel guilty. An important question: Do your blood bonds really serve you as well as you yearn to think they do?
We’re raised to believe that family is everything. Hearing this adage from relatives, religion, and society all our lives, we accept it as truth. There’s a valid reason that we’re programmed to value our family of origin: without it, as children, we’d be alone and unable to survive. The instinct to value family is crucial both physically and emotionally. However, when we can function on our own as adults, it’s time to assess our experience with family to see if it’s all it’s cracked up to be. Maybe yes and maybe no.
Contrast friends and family. For the most part, our family of origin has known us longer, since we were babies. They know our history and have shared most of it with us. That makes us feel positive toward them because we enjoy being known. Also, even if we have terrible memories of some relatives, we generally have some positive ones as well. Friends, on the other hand, come later in life, even if some of our friendships were made back when we were in grade school. So, family provides us with continuity.
What happens, though, when you’re an adult and realize that your parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, or cousins detract from, rather than add to, your life? We (hopefully) choose friends in adulthood because they’re good to us and we like how they make us feel. Unlike family members, they’re not stuck in old patterns with us and, instead, see us for who we are, not who they wish us to be. Often friends treat us far better than family members do. In fact, too frequently, there’s a stark contrast between the two—family members mistreat us while friends really have our backs.
If you have caring friends, be grateful and rejoice. They are your adult family now. You no longer need those other people who were a constant in your early life. I’m not advising you to disconnect from family, to drop them like hot potatoes. I am saying to carefully weigh every single person you want in your life now and how close you want to be to them. It’s your decision, not theirs. If family members mistreat you and you can’t get them to stop, it’s time to distance yourself from them and increase your closeness to friends who are understanding and supportive. Not everyone has a loving family, but you can always (always!) choose, for your “second” family, loving friends.