04 August 2013

Sentimental Sunday - The Line Between Family and Friend

So, the lovely Katie Chapman posited “I am left wondering what it is that still makes those positive family relationships somehow carry more weight than those friendships that are just as positive in their influence in my life.” She then posed the questions on Google+ “Is there a line between friend and family? If so, why? Can that line disappear? What can change that line?” (I have to note, after writing for a bit, that Katie did qualify this with the term ‘positive family relationships’. Smart girl…I just redacted five paragraphs of stuff no one wants to know because it doesn’t fall into that category. Heh.)

Speaking as someone who once had to figure out a way to feed 30 people in a space made for 4, I feel more qualified to answer these questions than I’d like. The reason being that I now live on the opposite side of that equation; on the side of the ‘friend’ who sort of feels like family but really isn’t. As I’ve written about many times, my life has taken an odd turn and my husband and I are left with only a few relatives who stay in contact with us. It’s not as if we don’t have fond memories of family, quite on the contrary. Both of us have warm and heartfelt memories of huge family gatherings and the feeling of security that comes with knowing you have numbers of relatives behind you when the going gets tough. Except, in our case, when the going got tough, well…

In the 20+ years Cas and I have been together, we only ever wanted our families to be happy. If someone asked us to do something for them, we did it regardless of the circumstances. On many occasions, Cas took his father to dialysis in the morning, after working a 12-hour night shift at the hospital, because no one else was ‘available’. I bailed my parents out financially countless times, to my (and our) saving’s detriment. We gave everything we had because they were family, and that’s what you do for family.

Except, the truth is that that’s not how everyone behaves in real life. While we never expected reciprocity, there’s a level at which you begin to notice you’ve become a door mat. A place where people wipe their feet before moving forward. It’s certainly not treatment you’d ever accept from a friend, so why would you accept it from family? Well, if you’re smart, you move those relationships to the ‘not-positive’ category and go on.

But where do you go? You have no ‘family’. So, you try to build bonds with people willing to accept you the way you are, and there’s a remarkable and refreshing quality about that. People who choose us, rather than being stuck with us because of our DNA. The trouble comes in when you don’t have the self-awareness to own up to your new-found friends that they’re your family replacement. Because if you don’t fess up relatively quickly (no pun intended), there’s a fair chance that you’re going to put too much pressure on the new ‘relationship’ and they’re going to bolt. Because, who needs fake family when you have real family?

I do have a friend, and a very good one at that, who has a ‘brother’ who isn’t a brother at all, but someone who came into their lives and genuinely became a part of their family. How much a part of their family? At their dad’s funeral, he provided part of the eulogy. There wasn’t a dry eye as he described the rare quality of the man who had created a family so wonderful that they would take him in and make him part of their family. He’s lucky, and he knows it.

So, Katie, only a person with positive family relationships wonders why it is that family relationships have a different quality to them than those equally positive friend relationships. The line between friend and family is only as wide as the two people allow it to be; and it most definitely can change and disappear just as family relationships change and sometimes even disappear. The bond between two people is only as strong as the weaker of the two, right? 


  1. Oh, I am so glad you took this on. Though the image here and the thought behind it is a hard one at best, it sure does give perspective to some challenges I have been working through of late with my literal family. Also, what you shared about your friend that found himself fully adopted into a friend family struck home with me related to one family that we have built a friend family with. My husband and I have swapped the conversation of who, in either of our families, we would ever consider leaving our kids to in our will. We would honestly pick this friend family first, even though that would displace them from their literal family in the process. There is a power that builds by developing something so genuine and strong out of what started as a simple set of strangers meeting and getting to know one another. Much to think about... Thanks Laura for your thoughts. :)

  2. Katie, you're very welcome. Your situation, as a parent, is not unusual. I had to chuckle, as this very topic came a up a few months ago with a friend who was heading on an extended vacation to Europe. She and her husband were unable to decide who their kids would go to in the event something was to happen to them, so they simply had not written a will. I wagged my finger at her (literally) and told her they needed to get over it and make a decision, even if that decision was to appoint a temporary and objective guardian (like their lawyer) who would determine the best situation for the kids. While her mom is still young, she's alone and having two boys (9 and 6) would be quite the challenge. And, her husband's family has 'issues' as well the responsibility of caring for his brother who has Downs. So, in the event of the unthinkable, who gets the kids?

    I tend to think more like a genealogist when these big Life questions come up. Having seen the lists of children being processed through the courts in the 18th and 19th Centuries as orphans, I think about how we view these situations now. As a real-life example, when my 25 year old niece died, leaving her three kids without their mom and their dad in a fugue of grief, the family stepped up and shuttled the kids around until a suitable permanent place for them could be established. I think as parents we forget how adaptable kids are: as long as there is a loving home, the complications of the adult's lives don't matter a bit. In the case of my niece's kids, they have incredible and somewhat intimidating memories. Her daughter was only 10 months old (she'll be 8 in November...wow), but can recount details of our home that are eerie. And she always speaks about it as a favorite experience, not as the sad occasion it truly was, and will always be. For all the nastiness in my husband's family, we both know that if anything happened to any of the adults, we would take their kids in a heartbeat and without question give them all the love we have. Naturally, that's because we don't have children of our own and we put a different value on even that relationship.

    I do believe those friend families can be just as tight, sometimes tighter, than our blood families, whether we like to admit it or not. As the 'friend' in a friend family, I put far more value on the relationship because I know it's up to me to ensure a strong bond. And just thinking about not being able to raise your own children has got to be overwhelming. But, sometimes we have to trust the Plan, as messed up as It can seem.

  3. Happy Blogiversary!!

    Regards, Grant



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