Family and Friends
"Blood is thicker than water"
Everyone has heard this saying before. It's the idea that family always trumps our friends when the rubber meets the road. And it makes sense as family are the people that we grow up with, learn from and trust with everything that we have. I am blessed to have two amazing families; the one that I grew up with and the one with my wife and kids (ok...maybe 3 families as some friends are honorary Aunts and Uncles). Both families have been such a wonderful support system and have provided non-stop love and guidance my entire life. The importance of family is unchallenged and as Harper Lee once wrote in To Kill a Mockingbird:
"You can choose your friends but you sho' can't choose your family, an' they're still kin to you no matter whether you acknowledge 'em or not, and it makes you look right silly when you don't."
One of the major reasons that my wife and I moved back from London and selected Chicago as our destination was to be near family. We wanted our children to grow up knowing their Aunts, Uncles, Grandmas, Grandpas and all the other family members that we love. And, just over two years after moving to Chicago, we know that we made the correct decision.
But...what about friends?
"Friends are the family you choose"
This is the other side of the coin when discussing those people with which we are closest. Growing up we spend a great majority of time around our friends at school, during extra-curricular activities, at parties, ding-dong-ditching neighbors, etc. Friends are the people that we share our secrets with, compare test scores to, gossip with, complain about family with and for many of us, eventually marry. But, even though friends influence our lives in so many powerful ways, they can still be seen as inferior to family. But why is that?
When we moved to London we had one family member nearby. My cousin, her husband and children did an amazing job of welcoming Lisa and I to the city and the country. But, because of where we lived in proximity to my cousin, Lisa and I could not simply plug ourselves into her social network; we had to establish our own connections, friends and support system. Through our jobs, NCT (birthing) classes and other activities we created our world and everything in it, which brought the city life and made it feel like our home. When my son was born we left my daughter off at our childminder's house (overnight) without hesitation or payment. On holidays we met up with our close friends to celebrate in style. And, we still have two amazing friends who send gifts and cards for all birthdays and holidays AND visit on a yearly basis (I know you're jealous). Normally each of these events described are reserved for family, but for Lisa and I our friends in London were/are family.
When we eventually moved back to Chicago we had a tough transition back to US society. Our five years abroad changed who we were as people and having two kids drastically changed our social calendars. We met up with old friends and our families as much as possible, but inherently the interactions were much different causing Lisa and I to feel like we didn't belong (at times). It was only when we met such a wonderful group of local friends did this really begin to change.
If you've ever been to Winnemac Park in Chicago, you know that the playground is the life-blood for all parents with young children. It is a go-to for seeing friends, a fall-back for any failed activity and generally the extent of the daily/weekend social calendar for any local parent. And for Lisa and I, the playground became a life-line for us as a family. It was here that we met such amazing people that over time, they have become like a family to us. Our friends made us feel like we belonged because we literally saw them everyday at the playground. This new group, combined with our old friends, helped to bring the city back to life. In the last two years we've spent holidays with them, business activities, dinner parties and general debauchery. Our friends, both old and new, have been the family that we choose.
"It takes a village to raise a child" - African Proverb
So, why such a disconnect between Family, Friends and how each group is valued? In my experience, each group provides such valuable love and support that emphasizing the importance of one group over the other seems short-sighted. Both Family and Friends provide such nourishment that without either group, our lives and the lives of our children would be much less colorful. So, perhaps the saying "it takes a village to raise a child" is the most accurate approach to living; where we recognize that each group has made us who we are and that both are vital for living. And just maybe, we recognize that sometimes water runs a bit thicker than we believe.