As I write out my Christmas Cards, I can’t help but think of who I consider to be family.
I am part of many families, you see. There’s my mother’s family, and my father’s family with whom I share a common lineage (adoptively speaking), and my father’s created family (those who have standing invitations to our home), and my created family, which includes a few of my friends, and members of each of my other families, and Dashing and a few of his biological family.
It’s a little like this:
But how do we get there? When you’re little, your family are those people who take care of you, and by extension any whom they call family.
Over years one develops those existing relationships, growing closer to some, learning to tolerate (or not) others… and as one grows and meets new people one adds to the base from which to draw familial relationships.
That’s fairly simple, and common, thinking.
But when is it that someone goes from being a friend, to being family?
For me, it is that line where I would protect them from themselves. I love my friends, yes, but somehow I know they manage without me. I know they can take care of their own stuff, and I trust them to ask for help if they need it. I feel comfortable telling them when I think their behaving poorly, or when they’ve made a poor choice, but if they choose to disagree, well, that’s up to them.
Family though, family is so much more complicated.
Because somehow, in the idea that my life would be truly altered if this person were to leave or be in hardship, there’s the self-protective reaction that says I should do all I can to prevent it.
If a family member has an addiction, it affects me in ways a friend’s addiction might not, and it’s so much harder to tell them “You have a problem, and I need you to get help” because it’s like telling part of yourself that you’ve been let down by it.
If a friend has financial hardship – I might give them some money to help out, but probably not that much, and I might expect it paid back someday. I can understand that a friend might fall on hard times. And I understand that they will get back up on their own eventually.
If I see a family member heading towards financial hardship, I do all I can – lecturing, giving of funds, subtle and not-so-subtle hints about job applications or savings accounts – because underneath it all, I feel responsible for their well-being.
I recognize that, like my friends, my family is mostly full of capable adults, who manage to feed themselves, and clothe themselves, and get to and from work daily without my constant assistance or supervision – but I still feel connected to them in a way where if they fail, I fail. If they succeed, I am proud of their accomplishment, and happy to have helped in any small way. But when family hits a rough spot, for me, it’s an all hands on deck kind of time.
At least, that is the gut, knee-jerk reaction.
But I’ve come to learn that even family, sometimes have to fail on their own.
After all, it’s through failing that we learn our greatest lessons, right?
But even when it’s a hands off – let-em-fall-down kinda time, there’s still that instinct, that basic desire to come between them and the cold, hard ground, because when they hurt, I hurt.
And that’s how I know who’s my family.
Where’s the line for you? Are you more protective of friends, trusting your family to speak up more? What do you think? Let me know below!