Friends Vs. Family: Why Friends Are Just As Important As Family

Blood isn’t the only thing that makes a group of people a family and the people we choose are just as important as the people that we don't.

You ever love people so much you're just happy to spend time with them? I feel that regularly because I surround myself with people who love me back. Some of these people are related to me and some aren't. 

I’ve lived a lifetime being pulled in two different directions – toward the obligation of family and the fun of friends. At some point, however, the lines started to blur and I couldn’t tell anybody apart anymore.

Before you know it, your friends are so close they feel like family and then the friend hangs start to seem like obligations too. Relatives may be left feeling neglected as you fit them into a calendar of events. It happens.

For some people, life circumstances have dictated who to prioritize and for some of us, it is not so clear. 

Comparing the relationship between friends and family

Friends are the people you choose to surround yourself with while being involved with family can seem like more of an obligation.

Familial relationships are for better or for worse. Blood, marriage, adoption – something has tied you to these people definitively. Even if the ties are strained, these people are still family. When a relative marries someone who you wouldn’t necessarily choose to spend your time with under other circumstances – still family.

It is easier for friends to come and go, but that also means the ones who stick together are worth it. Without the traditional obligations of holidays and family events, friends have to make an effort to be together. This can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, friends can get into all kinds of shenanigans together, usually with the understanding that they are in it together. On the other, one random disagreement could break the entire relationship.

Families are steeped in generations of tradition while friendships develop through shared experiences.

Family relationships tend to be hierarchical whereas friendships are more evenly balanced. We make friends through our common interests and these people become our peers.

Some people are subject to the “family is first” mentality. While this makes it clear that family is a priority, it can be a trap for those who want to step outside of any family norm or put their own needs first from time to time. It can also be difficult when an individual's values don't align with that of their relatives. 

When you’re with friends you have more freedom to be your true self. Again, this goes back to shared experiences. You have bonded with these people through something you have all taken part in, by choice or by happenstance, and that experience likely shapes some part of your personality. Everything we do affects who we are. With family, you may feel the need to fit a profile or you may not share everything for fear of judgment being passed. You may have to be conscious of your actions, the way you dress, and even what you say to keep the peace.

The effects of the family begin in childhood and last throughout your entire life 

These are the first relationships you form and they make an impact throughout the course of your entire life. Here’s a short video from Psych2Go on how the things that happen in our childhood do just that.   

The impact of the family is vast and the effects are both positive and negative. The reality is not everybody is close to their family. They could be separated by distance or circumstance. There could be something much deeper keeping people sharing the familial bond apart.

According to research published by the Oxford University Press, the quality of relationships within a family can impact a person’s well-being.  When support is received from one’s family, it can boost self-esteem and give a person a greater sense of self-worth. On the flip side, when family relationships are strained, it can cause stress which can lead to health-compromising behaviors.

At the end of the day, blood is blood no matter what the dynamic is and sometimes a person needs to reach outside of that to find a place in the world. The love from family can be deep, unyielding, and overbearing or it can be practically non-existent. While it’s important to develop friendships, it becomes even more crucial when there is no support coming from those to whom one is related.

Maintaining quality friendships has a positive impact on your well-being 

When it comes to friends, quality is definitely more important than quantity. There is a sense of belonging that comes from friendship and worthwhile friends have a profound impact on each other’s lives.

Friends lend support in a variety of ways. They celebrate our wins. They’re there to suffer through the pain of loss. We call on them when we need help and when we are bored. We enlist each other to partake in any number of shenanigans.

Friends are great when you need a reality check. If you have the kind of boundary-less friends that I do, you aren’t shy about your opinions and even though contempt or judgment shines through on occasion, you always know it comes from a place of caring. Plus, better to hear all the worst things about yourself from the people who love you so it doesn't phase you when the haters talk. 

Friends also provide an outlet for venting. We can share things with them that we might not be so open about with family members. This is what causes those lines to start getting fuzzy, especially when we want to avoid drama. We don’t have to censor ourselves around friends because we have already chosen to be in each other’s lives, also a reason why the reality checks work so well. When the only common interest we share with someone is blood, the relationship can be much more fragile.

Friends are the family that you choose. 

You might not be sure if you love your family because you have to or if it’s because you want to. You might not have a family to love at all. Whatever the case maybe we all need people. When all else fails, you literally can just pick your family.

There are no rules. There’s no guide to follow on how we build our tribe. Over the course of my lifetime, I’ve collected several friends for whom friend just doesn’t feel like a strong enough word. So we add labels, like a best friend, person, sister or brother, and aunt, uncle, or cousin by association – no blood, marriage, or adoption required.

Sometimes the bond of a chosen family can be stronger than that which you hold with true relatives. Not to let this be taken out of context, it doesn’t mean you don’t love those people to whom you are related, it just means that the love you hold is different.

We all have the right to choose which people we want in our lives, who we spend our time with. When your related family doesn’t fit the bill, handpicking your posse is the next best thing

How to balance relationships with friends and family so nobody feels neglected

1. Plan time for both by organizing priorities and blocking in time for each.

2. Plan something with all of them centered around yourself so they can spend time together and get to know each other.

3. Remind the people you love how important they are to you. 

4. Let everybody know it's not a competition for your attention. 

5. Plan fun activities so everybody can look forward to the time you will spend together.

6. Hang on to your traditions with each group respectively.

7. Be in the moment with whoever you are spending time with and don't let yourself be distracted with other responsibilities. 

8. Understand that there are very few true emergencies when you might be called on to blow off other plans. 

9. Set boundaries with your time so neither party can dominate it.

10. When all else fails, communicate - talk about how you feel, how they feel, and find a solution that has everybody feeling good.

There is room to love your friends and your family, and the bond of blood isn’t the only thing that can keep a group together. As I write this, I'm looking toward a group activity this weekend with friends I've known for 20+ years, planned months in advance. This comes on the heels of spending all day at the beginning of the week with my mother for Mother's day. And at the end of May, it's the greatest spectacle in racing - the Indy 500, a tradition 46 years in the making courtesy of my father and godfather, with a band of second-generation fanatics whose goal is to continue racking up the years as we pass it on to a third. 

Take the liberty and freedom to explore your options if you find the bonds in your closest relations lacking. If you’re lucky enough to have close relatives and close friends, throw them all in the pot together and make it your very own version of a big happy family.

friends and family having fun together
friends and family together. image source: pexels
Aspiring content marketer, writing to soothe my soul. Lover of dogs, fiction novels, and a good TV binge.

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