They say blood is thicker than water. Well, some say that. And they get the saying wrong, anyway. The actual proverb is “The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb”, which is actually the exact opposite of the other statement.
Now, I’m not one to claim that old proverbs are a good set of rules by which to live life, but that’s fairly irrelevant.
I grew up in a household where family obligations were always more important than our friends. Granted, I’m not sure my parents really had friends. They didn’t have social obligations beyond all the things they had to ferry all us kids back and forth to, so maybe the real point was that we owed them for all the time they spent with us. Still, the message was made quite explicit. Friendships were fleeting and meaningless. Give it ten years and we’d probably have a whole new group of friends. So what did it matter if we didn’t get to hang out with them after school or if we ditched the skating party because some uncle we barely knew was coming to visit?
Of course, as a kid I had no real recourse. If mom said we had to stay home to see Uncle Lives-In-Narnia-For-All-We-Know, that’s how it had to be. And back then it was just an annoyance, really. It was a matter of doing what we didn’t want to do in the name of family rather than doing something fun with our friends.
Then we all got older, and it turned out that there are, apparently, a large number of caveats and exceptions attached to the “family above everything else” rule.
Nobody gets to declare that one particular kind of relationship is strong and unquestionable, and then contribute no effort into maintaining that relationship. If family is more important than everything else, then the things you say about your family should be something you think through very carefully. If family is so important, then treating family better than anyone else should be a priority. But that’s so often not what people mean when they say blood is thicker than water. They mean that family members are stuck with each other, no matter what. They mean that they can treat their family like crap and not worry about it. They mean their family owes them something.
Our relationships are vital pieces of our lives and our identities, they shape our self-image and either facilitate or hinder our progress in life. We owe it to ourselves to give time and energy to the relationships which nurture us and leave behind the relationships which hurt us, blood relation or not.
During the last holiday season I read an article about the growing trend of gathering with “framily” – the friends we consider so close as to be family. We’ve celebrated “Friendsgiving” and “Friendsmas” with our circle for several years now. And for me, those gatherings have supplanted time with my actual family. Because what I’ve learned over the years is that the people who really support me, the ones with whom we associate by choice, mean more to me than those who just happen to be related to me by chance. That’s not to say that some of my family aren’t also part of my framily, but their status as friends is the one that counts.