Having a Family of Choice
Yesterday I spent my Thanksgiving surrounded by some of the people who matter most to me. We made dinner, had drinks, shared stories, and otherwise enjoyed each other's company. It was a terrific way to wrap up the long weekend, and I'm still glowing just thinking about how much fun it was.
This is the first Thanksgiving I've had without my family in a long time, and as we move into a season where, traditionally, we spend more time with our families, I wanted to talk a little bit about creating a Family of Choice, and how it's helped me.
For those of you new to this blog, I haven't communicated with my parents since last winter. Shortly after the new year I decided to seek out therapy and to start to work through a variety of anxieties and issues related to self-worth that were the result of my relationship with my mom, and one of the things my therapist suggested was to take some space from my mom while I focused on healing.
Needless to say asking for space didn't go over very well, and the fallout was that now neither of my parents speak to me. As a result I don't really speak to any of my extended family, and have very limited contact with my two younger siblings.
I don't talk about it very often because it's a difficult topic to discuss; most people have pretty solid relationships with their families, and even the ones who have rocky ones generally maintain some level of contact with their families despite regular drama and other issues that families deal with.
On being 'No-Contact'
I think that one of the hardest things that adults face is whether or not we should keep negative people in our lives. For many of us, there's that one relationship that we know we shouldn't maintain, but we do so because (often) we feel guilty about not maintaining it.
Think about that one "friend" who you don't really like, but always get invited around because they've always been there, or that family member who you despise but still invite to Christmas because you "have to."
Stop the madness! You never "have to" do anything that upsets you or makes you feel uncomfortable.
If someone is making you feel bad, guilting you, or otherwise upsetting you on a regular basis, you don't have to include them in your life. Getting to be a part of your life is a privilege, not a right.
For example, I have a family member whose way of "helping" was to challenge me on every single thing I did - I shudder to think about the hours I spent defending all of my decisions, from who I was dating, to my career choice, to where I wanted to go on vacation. It was insanity! I'd see their name pop up and my blood pressure would rise just thinking about the argument that was going to ensue.
If someone in your life is making you feel this way -your parent, friend, colleague, whatever- you have a right to ask them to stop. If they respect you, they will. If not, then it's okay to not politely explain why they don't get to be privy to your life and decisions anymore.
Creating a Family of Choice
"Family of Choice" is just what it sounds like: the people you choose to have around you in your life, and who are close to you. These people differ from your "Family of Origin" which are your blood relatives; mum, dad, siblings, etc.
I've heard lots of people make comments like "friends aren't the same as family" which I think is total BS. I really feel like many of us use "they're family" as an excuse to put up with meddling, guilt, and other nonsense that we wouldn't otherwise put up with from anyone else. How insane is that?
Being blood relatives doesn't (and shouldn't) make maintaining one relationship more important than maintaining others, and just because someone isn't related to you by blood, that shouldn't diminish the importance of the relationship.
Being close to your Family of Choice is just as good as being close to your Family of Origin, if your situation permits it - there's no law stating that just because you weren't born into the same family, that you can't care about someone the same way you would a blood relative.
Creating and cultivating my Family of Choice has been a really important part of navigating this whole No-Contact experience for me. Knowing that I have a handful of close friends whom I can turn to in a crisis helps alleviate feelings of loneliness or isolation which I occasionally feel when thinking about my present circumstances.
In addition to being a support system, a healthy Family of Choice can also serve as a benchmark for other relationships in our lives. Why would we want to spend time talking to or putting up with people who make us feel bad, or tear us down, when we have a support system of great people we can reach out to instead?
Why does all of this matter?
It matters because we have a right to be happy, and to surround ourselves with kind, positive people who care about us and want to see us succeed.
Most of the time this is pretty easy to do; lots of us are lucky enough to have defaulted into families who are supportive, and manage to find great friends, partners and colleagues whom we care about, and who want the best for us, as well.
However, it's easy to start to fall into the habit of allowing negative people to start to infiltrate our lives, and to start giving them too much weight and authority over our thoughts and our actions. This can be especially true if we've grown up in a family, or have that one family member, who makes us feel like shit. We put up with it because we're used to it.
Creating a Family of Choice means that you get to choose the people you want to share your life and experiences with. It means taking control over your own happiness, and ensuring that everyone who touches your life does so in meaningful and positive ways.
I didn't write this post to encourage you to cut out your family or anything like that, but I wanted to write something to let you know that we can look to outside sources (friends, partners, colleagues, mentors, etc) to help us feel fulfilled and loved. It's hard, and it's a weird process, but it does work and it's worth doing if you aren't getting the supports that you need from your Family of Origin.
We all have the tools at our disposal to build the kind of families and lifestyles that we want to have - what that looks like is entirely up to you.
Have you ever struggled with letting go of a difficult relationship? Was it a friend, family, or loved one? Tell me in the comments, or if it's too personal, send me an email - I'm always available to chat.