How many of us think of our family members as “friends?” Can you even say you “like” all of them? I’m not saying there is something wrong within the relationship, but when it comes to spending quality time and making memories, who would you rather be with, a family member or a close friend? I’ve been giving this a lot of thought lately and quite frankly I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because my own sister lives just one major block over and three major blocks up, a total of five minutes driving time without lights, and I can’t remember the last time we actually spoke on the phone or spent a day together “just because.” We text from time to time. I send her pictures of my grandson and she sends me pics of her brood which consists of six sons, seven grandsons and finally now a granddaughter. We used to spend a “birthday day” together, honoring the fact that we were both a year older, shopping and/or going to a nearby casino, but that has even fallen by the wayside. There is nothing wrong with our relationship, life has just gotten in the way. When we are together we have a great connection and she has many times been there when I needed her for support, but most of the time she is not my first choice. I am more inclined to call a friend when I am in need of help rather than my sister because I know she has a lot on her plate and for some unknown reason I feel more comfortable disrupting a friend’s life for my needs than I do hers. It’s said, “Blood is thicker than water,” but that does not necessarily apply in today’s world. I believe, due to people’s ever-changing geographics and economics, we have been conditioned to gravitate towards what we feel comfortable with rather than “the norm” society dictates. The other day an acquaintance, whose husband recently passed away, said she is now all alone because she has no children. I understand in her hour of newfound grief she would go in that direction, but the reality is even if she did have children they might not be there for her. Maybe because of distance or a stalled relationship. Why is it thought that only family can provide compassion and support? I personally have lost count of the numerous times my friends have taken it upon themselves to help me in my time of need because of the distance my daughters live from me. It’s not that my daughters don’t want to help me, it’s just not practical a great deal of the time and that's okay. I understand the situation and so do the real friends I am blessed with.
When I think of a friendship I feel “liking” that person is what brings us close and keeps us coming back for more. From there, love and respect evolves as a choice. We are not bound by blood, or name, or even a piece of paper, but it is someone whom you genuinely want in your life. How many family members (excluding your children and their families) can you say you like? How many of them do you honestly feel safe enough with that you want to spend time and share your innermost feelings with? Do you feel emotionally safe with them? I remember my ex-husband once said, “Family within a marriage is the process of forcing people together that would not normally even give each other the time of day.” Whereas I realize that was a cynical statement and that attitude is, quite frankly, one of the reasons our marriage had many a tense moment that ended in me calling him my “ex-husband,” it did hold a large grain of truth. Many a time I will sit amongst my blood relatives at an event, scan the body language, hone in on a conversation or two, observe interactions, reacquaint myself with quirks, and often wonder how I can be related to these people. That being said, dealing with an extended family can be quite a feat. A good example is when your children marry. Now that’s a hoot! Come on, those of you reading this with children who are married have to agree that truly, genuinely, honestly, enjoying the company of your son or daughter’s in-laws family can be a challenge at times. It is hard enough to conquer the blood connection let alone bringing in “third parties.” Have you ever perused the people sitting around the table at Thanksgiving and discovered you are purely tolerating their presence? Asking yourself the big question, “Is there anyone here I genuinely can say I like?” And how about you? Do they like you? Who in the crowd is feigning interest? All the back and forth. Asking the “catch-up” questions, listening to stories of acquisitions, travel, illness, business, philosophies and the ever so popular “you HAVE to come to the house,” but you rarely get or make the phone call to make it happen. Think about it. Lifestyles being blended, morals being blended, recipes and traditions being blended, and even opposing cultures need to find a balance.
I am forever reminded of the 1995 film, “Home for the Holidays,” with Holly Hunter, Robert Downey, Jr., Anne Bancroft, and many other now familiar faces. In the movie, Holly Hunter’s character has a dismissive relationship with her sister. It is in a very pivotal scene, during a never-ending argument, that her sister coldly proclaims, “If I met you on the street and you gave me your phone number...I would throw it away.” Wow! Take from that what you will, but it hits me right where I live. It comes down to a choice. How many of us choose to be with friends during events and on holidays, passing on the opportunity to spend the day or an evening pretending to be interested in the life of their family? Needless to say, many people consider good friends to be their real family and I honestly don’t feel that is entirely unfair. We all need support and connection, whether it’s actually found with “blood,” friends or even in rare occasions the people you work with. Let’s face it, in today’s posture when many people need to spend more hours in a day making a living rather than enjoying the comforts of home, co-workers can form a family unit many find satisfying.
This all having been said, am I discouraged by the notion of not feeling connected to those who you were “born to love?” Am I worried that my family will slowly drop off the radar if I don’t check in on holidays, birthdays, etc.? More importantly, do I feel guilty for expressing myself about this very sensitive subject? No. I honestly believe that I am merely voicing truths that many are either too polite or too scared to reveal. And then lets ask the opposite question...Are THEY knocking down your door for companionship? Who are they reaching out to in a time of need? How do THEY feel? Could YOU possibly be the subject of observation and thought dismissive? At times probably so! Remember, they are just as guilty of the emotion as you are. I am sure they don tense smiles and bite their tongues while breaking bread with you from time-to-time. None of us are going to get out of this one alive…
Yes I am content with the relationship I have with my sister, it works for us. I know she’s there, she knows I’m here and it is an unspoken vow that in the time of need we will step up to the plate if we are called and able to. In the meantime I have two amazing daughters, their wonderful husbands and a delicious grandson I can’t get enough of and I am proud to say I like them all. I am blessed with friends whom I believe truly like me and are there for me as I will forever be there for them. The bottom line - despite extended family and who’s related to whom, at the end of the day it’s about choices. I make the choice to spend time with each and every person, share my life with them and that makes me happy. I choose to enjoy the differences in our lives and I am richer for it. We make the choice to invite people into our lives because they make us feel safe. They bring us happiness, show us respect and consideration, leaving the age-old “Blood is thicker than water” motto just a matter of deciding what type of tourniquet to master for the scrapes... because who cares anyway?
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