With "chosen families" you can offer comfort in life's difficult times and celebrate successes.
Many years ago an Edwin Markham poem inspired me, and I’ve tried to live by it:
He drew a circle that shut me out —
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in!
As Markham says, we could see people who are distant or rejecting as upsetting, tempting us to call them bad names. But drawing them in with love works so much better. As I’ve written before, almost all of my genetic family is long gone, and I don’t have that connection to draw on to surround myself with love, but that hasn’t prevented me from drawing people in.
There are more kinds of love than birth families, romance and marriage. Relationships are a precious resource, especially if your genetic family is far away, or doesn’t get along particularly well. Not only does it take a "village" (community) to raise a child, but in our mobile and fast-paced society, a sense of community, family and connectedness helps us to function more effectively as adults in all phases of life. From ancient times, individuals, neighbors and friends who learned to take care of each other, to love each other, and to nurture relationships with each other were more likely to survive.
A sense of love and intimacy, connection and community is critical to well-being. For example, when you marry, you’re bringing strangers together to form a blended family, which can be a challenge. The most important thing is to give the various relationships time. Change is difficult for everyone, so understand that it will take a while for things to settle down. If you're consistent about caring, respect and communicating as much as possible, Most of your genetic and chosen family members will learn to get along.
Blended families and ethnic groups mean that everyone learns to honor different traditions, lifestyles and preferences. Blending and fusing goes on for years, as your relationship develops and your family grows. One family member may think being loving is exactly what others see as terribly intrusive. One friend may value sharing and intimacy, another may value respect and privacy.
Do’s and Don’ts for blending friends and family:
• DO find opportunities for your chosen family and your genetic family to get to know each other.
• DON’T bring new guests to family traditions (like Holiday celebrations) without clearing it first.
• DO invite your friends and family to meet on neutral ground (like a restaurant or your own house)
• DON’T pressure people to get along with each other. Let them find their own connection.
• DO introduce friends and family with a little bit of positive info about each: "Mom, this is Susan – she loves to read, like we do" or "Susan, this is Emily, my mother. She taught me my love of books."
• DON’T participate in negative discussions behind someone’s back – say what you like about them instead. "Yes, I know Susie isn't Jewish (Italian, Mexican, etc.), but she loves our traditions, and she's a good person."
• DO prepare your friends before introducing them to your family’s quirks. "Aunt Jennie can talk your ear off, but she’s got a kind heart" or "Uncle Bob is critical, but he's the one who helped me get through college"
• DON’T get your expectations too high. Allow time for everyone to get to know each other, and don't pay too much attention to first reactions.
You can create various networks (families) of friends to bring that harmony into your life.
• Your chosen family – Warm friend provide a cushion and a shield in life’s difficult times — someone to talk to when you need support or advice, and to celebrate your triumphs with you. It’s a great blessing to be surrounded by a trusted and trustworthy group of friends who make your life’s journeys with you, and know exactly how far you’ve come.
• Your neighborhood family – Friendly neighbors make your neighborhood, your apartment building or condo complex, your block safer. Their watchfulness will protect you against vandalism and other problems. Know your neighbors and they will call 911 for you, or watch your children, take package deliveries, or feed your pets.
• Your family of origin – Family is the network we turn to first in times of need, and to share the good times, too. If your family has drifted apart, try building a partial family network with those you like or who live close by, and soon other family members could be drawn closer.
• Your fun family. These people enjoy the things you like to do. Families who want to do parent/child activities, or fellow single people who share your weekends and holidays. Or couples who join you for fun times. Parents of similar-age children can share car-pooling, baby-sitting, information and support.
By creating family feelings in several areas of your life, you'll have the joy of the give and take of friendship, anytime you want. As time passes and you look back on your life, you are likely to feel best about the good things you did for others and the positive contributions you have made to your friends and family. Perhaps life will present you with an opportunity to give back to friends. Being there in times of need, helping out in times of illness or bereavement, or just being a sympathetic listener when a friend is stressed can be more valuable to them than you imagine.
You'll create blessings for yourself when you share your rituals, holidays, laughter and information. Welcome friends who are alone into your family's good times. With these "chosen families" you can offer comfort in life's difficult times and be a willing participant in celebrating successes. Everything you give will come back to you multiplied. In the spirit of peace and love, I wish you the joy of connection.
(Adapted from The Ten Smartest Decisions a Woman Can Make after Forty.)