What exactly is friendship? Dictionary.com defines it this way:
“The state of being friends; friendly relation, or attachment, to a person, or between persons; affection arising from mutual esteem and good will; friendliness; amity; good will.”
and these words are synonyms:
“harmony, accord, understanding, rapport.”
It is at this point that I must ask the question, Can you be friends with your family? I believe the answer to that is no and the path to this thought is fraught with interesting perspectives. EDITED TO ADD: perhaps the proper way to phrase this is, “Can I be friends with my family” as I cannot speak to anyone else’s truth. Only my own. Please consider this post not to be a sweeping generalization but a statement of my own personal truth regarding my capabilities in relationships.
When you are born, your parent/parents are there to love you, feed you, raise you. If you’re lucky, they bring into the world other people like you and you become a family with mother, father, brothers and/or sisters and so begins the long narrative of your life. During your formative years, you share experiences with all of these people, some good, some bad. You compete with your siblings in various arenas and sometimes you win but sometimes you lose. You each develop a persona and role in your family. You dream that one day, you will grow up and go off on your own, develop relationships with other people and, if you’re lucky, that’s what happens. In my own experience, I have relied too heavily on familial relationships, and have in the past forsaken the idea of having friends outside of my mother and sister. Until recently, I really only had one or two girlfriends, and I had no friendships remaining from high school or anything like that. Thankfully though, all that is beginning to change and my world of friends has grown exponentially in the last year. Most of the credit for that goes to our decision to homeschool because it forced us to look for others who were doing the same thing, who held the same ideals as us. Part of the credit must also go to my new found passion for photography. In my search for information to strengthen my skills, I have met many wonderful people along the way and my circle of friends is blissfully large. For the first time in my whole life, I feel connected to a group of people to whom I share no blood relation and it’s nice. Why? Because you don’t choose your family. You are born into it. Friendship though is a choice. People meet you and decide whether or not they like you and want to continue to have a relationship with you. It really is a beautiful thing.
Family relationships are hard, especially with siblings. There are many years of fighting combined with years of sibling rivalry that can strain even the best relationships. I think it’s important to recognize that your family is there for you when things get tough but it’s a mistake to rely on them as “friends”. They can never be your “friend” in the truest sense of the word and I don’t mean to make it sound like that’s a bad thing. But neither is it bad to keep your friends and your family separate. It’s still a wonderful, beautiful relationship, it just has it’s own designation – family. Family is complicated but no matter how complicated they’ll always be there to support you when the chips are down. Well, if you come from an abusive situation then that’s different but generally speaking, family is there. It’s important to be able to stand on your own and develop relationships outside of the people to whom you are related. If you don’t you will find yourself in a very lonely situation should an argument arise and, even in the friendliest families, they do pop up.
I am very fortunate to have close relationships with my mother and sister. I know better now than to say they are my friends because they are not. But the familial bond we share is strong and important and something I treasure greatly. They are my touchstones and I’m incredibly thankful I have them in my life. I’m also very fortunate to have friends. Friends are who I can share my true self with, without fear of reprimand, friends are who I can share my passions with, who I can share my greatest joys and lowest lows with, without fear of judgment. Friends provide something that family never can, an unbiased ear. I know from my own experience that it is hard to listen to a family member complain about something without offering up some pearl of wisdom or an opinion. Many times I’ve upset my mother by doing that very thing. After much thought and reflection on the subject, I know now not to rely on my family for friendships. It’s not fair to them to expect that. All my life, I have shared myself openly with them and I think it’s time for me to stop doing that. It just seems like the right and prudent thing to do. When family and friendship mix, things get emotional and twisted and relationships get strained. I have my friends and I have my family and I’m good with keeping them categorized just like that.