Who do you identify as family? You were born into a particular family – but then friendship, adoption, marriage, divorce, and other changes alter it over time. In the end, family are those people you are closest too. Some have large, extended families, others claim a handful of people. As a child, your family is chosen for you. As an adult you can make choices about your family relationships. Being deliberate about your family increases your resilience.
Family are people who allow you to be your authentic self and love you – not in spite of your faults, but because they have seen all of you. Strong, caring family bonds are a treasure. Painful, difficult family relationships create some of the greatest damage. These are the people who are “supposed to love you.” What if they can’t or don’t? This is not because there is something wrong with you, but because they don’t have the capacity to love, or to understand, or there is some other barrier in their ability to attach. Most of us blame ourselves in this scenario. Most of the time we are wrong. It is not us; it is them. This is when strong, consistent boundaries become our healthiest choice.
What about your relatives? My family tree has a lot of branches. My parents are both the youngest of 6 giving me a lot of first cousins and even more first cousins once removed. Both my wife and I have two siblings all of whom have children, and some have grandchildren. I came into our marriage with 2 children, so we also have children and grandchildren. We both enjoy our extended family and have a very long list of Christmas cards we send every year. With this many relatives they don’t all meet the definition of family as I am using it in this blog. And yet there is a connection there through our shared family histories.
We also have friends who are family. It is not uncommon in the LGBTQ+ community for people to talk about “chosen family.” My wife and I are very blessed that our relatives all supported our relationship and marriage, but not everyone in the rainbow spectrum has this good fortune. Many people have chosen to build family due to rejection from their family of origin. And many families have an aunt or uncle who is Mom or Dad’s best friend. Chosen family not bound by DNA or legal ties.
When do you decide someone is family? Some possible thoughts of when someone is family: When the relationship is a two-way street. When you are comfortable enough to enjoy being snowed in together for three days. When you have traveled enough of life’s road together. When you can count on them and they can count on you.
Chosen family is about mutual love and respect, the giving and receiving of help, safety in being your true self, and shared life history. Family takes time to grow. Enjoyment and shared interests, fun or mission can come quickly when you meet someone. Trust, depth of relationship, weathering rough times, working out of misunderstandings, knowledge – these take time. Chosen family are those relationships that bolster your resilience. They are the people who are there when times are rough, ask for help when they need it, and help you grow in a way that enriches all of you.
Strong, caring families benefit those inside of them and the communities around them. Someone steps in with a casserole, babysitting, a ride. Advice and help are offered; a loan or a gift given when it is needed. Birthday parties, BBQ, vacations and late-night phone (or zoom) calls. Children having more than one adult to turn to as they grow. What does your family look like?
Family relationships impact resilience in many ways. These are the people who help us make sense of the world, who support us when life is hard, and who remind us of our strengths. Breaks in family ties are also times when we need all the resilience we have learned. Hard times reveal who is family. No family is set in stone. It is a network of relationships that will change over time. Take time to consider how your resilience strengthens your family and how your family impacts your resilience.