As the trend of marrying later in life continues, more and more young adults are talking about their friendships as ‘families’. Things like ‘Friendsgiving’ are a bona-fide cultural phenomena. Added to this is the decline of a majority of marriages and parental abuses that challenge our conceptions of what it really means to be a family.
So, what does it take to qualify as ‘family’? It can’t be just blood. Would we not consider adopted kids part of a family? Could it be living together? Not all cohabitations are based on affection. What about love? I used to tell my brother I loved him because I had to. With more and more fuzzy, confused, or downright unhealthy definitions of the “L” word, can we use it very definitively?
You may be yawning and thinking who cares? But I contend it is a valuable question for us as a society. Family is the epitome of relationship, the summit of human interaction. In a world struggling to relate to one another, what are we aiming for? How do we define this pinnacle of human community?
Family is a diverse idea. We have blended families and estranged ones. Healthy and dysfunctional. Inherited and chosen. Perhaps a huge checkpoint for our emotional and spiritual health is determining what exactly the word family means and who we include under that umbrella.
I think the one thing that defines family is intimacy. You can have intimacy without love, as some families do. Intimacy is the art of familiarity, a dance between proximity and affection, being seen and being known. Not all intimacy is healthy, as any family can tell you. There is co-dependency and abuse, neglect and manipulation. But intimacy is the hallmark of familial relationship.
Who are the people you go through the mood curve with? Who experiences the pit of despair with you? These are likely the ones you consider your family.
Whether by inheritance or by choice, it is the ones we are willing to go through turmoil with that are truly family. This is why blood is the traditional measure for who is family. We run or hide or give up when things get difficult. But sisters are sisters forever. Fathers and sons. Grandparents. These ties of intimacy are not something we can shuck off. We can ignore them, but we really can’t get rid of them. Choosing family is a challenge because there is always the very real possibility we (or they) might decide to go another direction.
When you experience intimacy with someone, part of them clasps on to you. Whether it is a good or bad manifestation, intimacy is about growth and perseverance. Iron sharpening iron. Part of the sword is left on the whet stone (and vice versa).
Hope and Expectation
Family is the place where our hope lives. We are hesitant to commit, frightened of the imagined consequences. Yet we cannot escape knowing that we are created for community, longing for the beautiful manifestations of human relationship.
This is an important element of what makes a family. It is where we chose to commit. Our expectations of the outcome are almost always askew. Nonetheless, family is the place where we hitch our wagon. The place we hope to fulfill our deep longing to be in community with other people.
Our expectation and our hope for dating relationships, friendships, and co-worker dynamics trickles down from our core belief in what a family should be and our desire to participate in it.
Commitment and communication are essential building blocks for establishing a family. Unity does not require agreement. It happens through clarity, transparency, and the pursuit of truth. As we make our choices about family and relationships, it is essential for us to be honest about what we expect. And what we hope for.