My husband David and I were chatting about a family circumstance which led to a broader
discussion as to the meaning of families. David had, what I thought was, some interesting
viewpoints and I asked him to put them down for me for this month’s blog.
Hope you enjoy;
“Families you can’t live with them and you can’t live without them”
At first, I thought I owed apologies for the use of this revised expression to some long-forgotten
songwriter, but I am mistaken. It turns out it the expression “Women can’t live with them and
can’t live without them” is a quote by Desiderius Erasmus, an esteemed Dutch philosopher who
died in 1536. Who knew ?
Families are an integral part of our lives and hopefully a positive one but in many cases, there
are challenges that lie within that relationship. When one talks about stepfamilies there is
usually an underlying presumption that there is likely more issues than a nuclear family. We are
all aware of instances in nuclear families where the relationships are tortured. I was cycling
recently with a new friend and I asked about siblings and he indicated that his sister had a big
problem with him so I asked what was that? He responded that it was that “I was born”
Honestly, we do not have to look far to see issues within whatever family unit, yet we know
they are extremely important to maintain emotionally stability.
Let’s take a step back and discuss what makes up a family. We know what a narrow definition
would be, but it is useful to broaden our perspective.
Here is an excellent quote from Pauline Boos (Ambiguous Loss pg 4)
“By family I mean that intimate group of people whom we can count on overtime for comfort,
care, nurturance, support, sustenance and emotional closeness. Family can be people who we may
grow up with – called the family of origin – or can be people we select in adulthood – called the
family of choice. The latter may include biological or non-biological offspring or no offspring at
all. Instead, we might be an “auntie” or an “uncle “to a relative’s or friends’ children or the
stepparent to a partner’s child. This view of family stresses the criterion of being present –
psychologically and physically – even more than that of being biologically related.”
This quote is excellent as it brings into perspective how broad the notion of family really is.
There was a moment when I needed to reach out to family for support and the reality was that I
had limited biological family. However, I was fortunate to have an excellent therapist who on
realizing my dearth of family connections suggested I reach out to my friends. I was reluctant to
do so thinking I did not want to impose on them but of course that is the benefit of close
friends. Within days I had a friend cancel weekend plans and basically take me in, another
dropped everything one weekday morning and came to see me, and on it went. In addition, my
brother, my only close family member, came from overseas for support. So, at the end of the
day, it was family, broadly defined, that reached out and provided support.
You might feel reluctant to “bother” friends with your problems but remember that the
friendship pact includes an understanding that within reason we are there for each other. The
friend will feel appreciated as such when asked to help. So, it is not a burden but rather a
pleasure and deepens the connection.
If you find yourself without close family either, like me, you do not have such a family or you
have family, but you are not close to them then you could reach out and develop your
friendships. You can always develop new friends. Humans are social animals and we need those
connections and it may take effort on your part to ensure you have them. If you are a little uncertain how you may do this, consider this possibility. I have been involved in charities over the years and have given talks on volunteerism. I remark that volunteering is a great way to meet new friends especially as it attracts well-meaning, kind people, mean self- centred people do not apply. There are other opportunities such as sporting activities where there are for example cycling clubs or fitness clubs where a small cadre of like-minded people get together. If sports are not an interest how about bridge clubs or if politically motivated a political party or an environmental group etc. In short, in addition to cultivating your existing friends reach out and develop new ones over time many of these new friends may well become family to you.
I found Pauline Boos’s comment on being an Aunt or Uncle to a friend’s child interesting as
Blythe and I have that experience. Blythe and I are very much a non-biologic Aunt and Uncle to
several youngsters who are now young adults. It is so rewarding to be held in a position of love
and respect by a next generation child. It came about as we made the effort to reach out and
foster that relationship. Again, very much part of our family however you define it.
An interesting phenomenon in most families is that they grow organically. Children marry
bringing in new spouses. This often changes the family dynamic and can be a positive or
negative. If prior to this your family was what was typically called a nuclear family then at this
point welcome to the stepfamily dynamic. You have family members who are no longer from a
It is tricky as one does not get a vote on the new family entrants but I would encourage that
you make the most of trying to ensure it is a positive experience. You must be open to change
and, in some cases, accept the need for a little compromise. On the other hand perhaps with a
little effort you have a new family member(s) who become an integral and joyful part of your
It is also important to note that no matter what type of family you are in now it will change over
time. Families are not static, they change. Family members may not remain close either
emotionally or physically, children grow up and mature, members pass and roles within the
family change. The reality is that there is a continuing adjustment required and effort made.
In summary, there are countless studies that one is better off with close connection then none.
Isolation is not healthy. Those connections may come from existing family or you may need to
grow your family. Rest assured the effort is worth it.
Thank you for reading,
I appreciate David’s comments as I know first-hand, as a professional, that the value of family
and broader close connections is critical to a healthy emotional life. I have heard from many
clients over the years that they are short healthy family connections but the reality is that it is
not enough to just talk about that situation. There must be an effort made to change it.
Life is a journey but remember you are at the helm. Hope these comments are helpful.
Especially at this time of year when the holidays approach and there is much emphasis on
All the best,