I can’t speak for everyone, but in my experience we spend most of our lives believing blood is thicker than water, that family is forever. Which is probably why many of us are so fiercely loyal to our personal relations. After all, they are literally a part of us. But nowhere can I ever remember any saying that claimed we had to be friends with our family. So I’m here to tell you that you don’t and that that’s OK.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to throw a wedge into your family dynamic or encourage you to distance yourself from relations you don’t always get along with. Instead, I’m trying to alleviate the guilt I think some of us feel for not having a connection with certain members of our families. The way I see it, blood isn’t always where your missing link resides. We’re all different, unique in our own ways and while we undoubtedly share physical and mental traits with family, it doesn’t always equate to friendship.
When I was younger the concept of family was a very simple thing. It meant love. It also meant stability, an expected group of people who were always going to be around and there for each other. Very simple. It comprised of a mom and dad, aunts and uncles, many cousins, brothers, several Grandmas and a Nana for good measure. It wasn’t always perfect but it was mine. As the years went by things began to change, as it does for all families. There would be disruptions. Whether due to relocations, marriage, divorce, or death, it was life that started to get in the way of my image of family. Slowly the behaviors and actions of family members began to confuse me, at times even disappoint me. As I got older, all of the things I believed about my family were falling apart. And I didn’t look at it with the cynicism of a growing teenager full of angst and emo music; instead it just made me sad.
I found myself, up until quite recently, grieving for the family I thought I had. As a child, these people were my friends. And perhaps I clung to that because outside of them I didn’t have much else. School life was a difficult one for me, and having a large group of cousins, those of who made up all different sorts of cliques, made me feel like I wasn’t always alone, that I did, indeed have friends and more importantly was someone who deserved them. As I made my way into adulthood, whether caused by circumstance or growing up, connections to almost all of my family changed. I can’t explain it any better than to say it was just different. Just like with the friends you grow up with in school, people change and often go down different paths.
The problem is, and I think I’m not alone in this way of thinking, that we expect more from our families. Yes, life happens and situations change, but if you’re family, then there is an expectation that we hold on, that we work harder and we never let go of each other. How many times have you heard someone who’s been wronged or hurt say in confusion, “but we’re family”? It’s as if that’s supposed to be a game changer. We’ve set incredibly high and impossible standards onto our families and ourselves, to never hurt or disappoint each other. While it would be nice to think that family can live up to that code, it’s unrealistic. And this is where I would like to remind you that they are not our friends. They are our family. Friends come and go. Some friends become our family in every way that matters and others pop in and out of our lives at just the right moments, bringing with them lessons and experiences that adds color to our lives. But our families are the ones who were there from the very beginning, not by choice, but by some divine path of destiny and as such, deserve a category all their own.
When we can stop expecting our families to be our automatic pals for life, we may just be able to have a better relationship with them. Our shared blood doesn’t always a BFF make. Look at your family. Inside you’ll find a plethora of personality, belief and experience, some of which you may never have a connection to. However, one thing that will always bring you together is your shared tree. Because of this tree, your family consists of the familiar faces you will likely see at every wedding, birthday and family gathering for the rest of your life. It will be these people who know your story as it started from the beginning, these people who have your nose, eyes or silly dance moves. It will be these people who are yours. But they are not your friends.
But we keep trying. And perhaps that’s a good thing. Perhaps it keeps us human. There’s this innate want to be close with our family members even if they hurt us. And when they hurt us, it’s a hurt like none other. It cuts deep, slashing through to our core. When the connection is not there, we keep looking for something anyway. We want to be close to our family and we want our family to be close to us. Why isn’t our shared history enough? Why must we believe that just because you’re family you have to be friends? I am now at a point in my life where I am trying my best to let go of that notion. They are not my friends. They are my family. And because they are my family they will be forever. Nothing can change that. But I need to recognize that that doesn’t exempt them from being human. They can hurt me; they have hurt me and probably at some point in my life will hurt me again.
And that’s OK. I don’t have to be friends with those who hurt me. I also don’t have to feel bad for stepping away from those who hurt me, even if they are my family. What I can do is push it aside and not allow it to cause further issue. I know of others who, after being hurt by family, have simply cut all ties. I can’t help but think that’s sad. I understand some circumstances call for such measures, as there are some hurts you can’t move past, but cutting ties with one person in a family often cuts off other members along the way and soon a lot of history is lost altogether. What I’ve often found though are trivial complaints behind the cutting off of family. Be it perceived disrespect or a case of miscommunication, we take the hurts of our family very seriously. It all comes from what we think and believe family “should” be. Perhaps the only thing family “should” be is understanding.
Understanding of the fact that we won’t all be friends. We won’t all share anything beyond a name in common and we all won’t be perfect to each other. But we will all show up when needed, we will all celebrate together, we will all mourn the ones we lose and we will all have good memories of each other at some point or another.
So we may not be friends; we didn’t choose to be a part of each other’s lives and we don’t have to be close. That’s OK. But it would be nice if we were family and remembered that. From my young understanding, family is love and love is simple. There’s a loyalty that swims in every one of us, it’s stronger for some than others, but it’s there. You know it when someone says something about your family, something you could have said a hundred times yourself, and it offends you. It’s because they’re yours, your people, not your friends, but yours nonetheless.