By growing our family away from extended family (and their help), we’ve learned that there is nothing more valuable than creating a strong network of friends who are like family.
Living near family can have many connotations—from the warmth of shared experience and everyday support, to the stress of dysfunctional relationships and invasive relatives. Some of us choose to live far away from family, some have no choice and some aren’t able to rely on family even if they are nearby.
Thankfully, no matter why we don’t have family on call, we can develop our chosen family of friends, wherever we are. In the past ten years, my now husband and I have moved more than ten times, including several moves overseas or across the US. Each time one of our first three children was born, we moved either right before or soon after the birth.
Through these years of growing our own family away from extended family and the help they can offer, we have learned that there is nothing more valuable than creating a strong network of friends who are like family. I have some simple advice on what to look for and how to create and nourish the bonds that will support you and your family in turn.
1. Think about what you are looking for.
What does family mean to you? Is it the intimacy, where you can just be yourself? Sharing child care? Warm celebrations at holidays? A sense of belonging?
For me, one important aspect of family that I seek out are other adults who truly care about my kids. I think it is important for children to spend time with adults (other than myself and my husband) who love them and are invested in their lives. This is a support for me too because I can celebrate with them when my child reaches big and little milestones, and they understand the highs and lows of life with my wonderful, exhausting, tiny humans.
2. Be patient.
It takes time to develop close friends and it can take a while to find the friends who will become like family. Be willing to wait for the right relationships to develop, because rushing into being closely involved with another family can bring unexpected challenges as you get to know each other better.
I have found that it takes about six months to develop intimate family friendships, so take your time and let it happen naturally.
3. Get involved.
These fulfilling relationships won’t just come and find you! Whatever your interests are, join a group of like minded people and you will most likely find other moms who are missing the support of family as well.
With little ones, we go through different seasons of busyness and ability to participate, so connect with those who are on a similar wavelength and time frame. Creating routines with other families who can commit to regular get togethers has allowed my kids to know that they can trust the stability of our relationships.
4. Reach out.
Once you have met and connected with some friends, you may find that you have many acquaintances and opportunities to socialize, but not the kind of support we hope for with family. That is when it is time to reach out and create the space for a deeper connection. Eat together. Go camping. Meet at the park on a Saturday morning.
Another important aspect of a family friendship is knowing what is going on in each other’s lives. Text them! Ask how their kid’s karate class is going. Ask about their spouse, in-laws, new baking project, or favorite shows on Netflix...just keep the conversation open and consistent. It is invaluable to have a few friends you can text any time about the highs and lows of life and know that they will do the same.
5. Be vulnerable.
This is the hardest part. Sharing the truth of our shortcomings and struggles is uncomfortable, but it is so important to have people in my day to day life who understand the challenges I experience—whether with my health, my home, my kids’ behavior, or my relationship with my spouse. It can be scary to open up to those who aren’t actually family, but if we want to have an intimate relationship, we need to let others in and be real with them.
Let them see your messy home or tantruming toddler, offer to watch their kids so they can go on a date, ask for advice when you don’t know how to handle something, tell the truth when they ask how you are and be ready to really listen when you ask them.
I have been blessed with a strong network of friends in each of the places I have lived. I miss those who are far away and cherish the bond we still share thanks to social media. I am incredibly thankful for my friends who do live nearby, because they make it possible to have a warm, satisfying family life, without having family on call.