Monday, August 28, 2006

What is family

The concept of the show Friends was founded on a group of friends so close they were essentially family. They did the things family did: Celeberated holidays together, attended the big moments together, relied and counted on one another as family does. Infact some of them even maried each other, officially becoming family.

But can you really become a family with people who are not? This question came up recently in my Family Law class as we debated the definition of family. Is it genetic or people who care for one another? Both do not necessarily correspond.

On one hand, family is blood and that is something factual, genetic, and you can never take away. On the other hand, you don't choose your family, you get what you get, but you get to choose your friends so they are a more considered choice of company.

Now, my immediate family, there is no question about it, nothing can top the love between my immediate family and me (by which I mean my husband and the families in which we were directly raised). But can friends also become like extended network of family? Some of our friends like Aasem and Zainab, we can go to their house and just hang out without any fear that we are intruding, and they can visit without me worrying if the food turns out bad.. Just like family. In Tampa last weekend I spent one night with Auntie Shahin. She's not my genetic aunt, but my mother's close friend who knew me as long as I've been alive... that night as we sat around my mom brother and I, and auntie and her children just laughing and joking and teasing one another, I felt love... and a strong sense of family.

I'm not particularly close to most of my extended family. It can't be helped, many of them live overseas and most I have never met. Not to mention that my mom was one of 8 children and my dad one of 6 who in turn had four times the number in children themselves, made it perhaps difficult to get to know each cousin, aunt, uncle intimately and form a bond that perhaps fewer in number could have provided. Ofcourse this is not to say that I'm not close to any extended family, I'd say one aunt is second only to my mother... but to be blunt, for the most part.. the connection is missing. In some ways I can say its sad. If my (hypothetical) children did not feel close to my brothers (theoretical) children, and if my brothers children were to never call me and feel no closeness with me it would be very sad... But then again, is it? We have no reason to be close except that we share genetic traits. Is that enough to make a bond? Why should the fact that we came from the same gene pool require closeness? or care? Why are we required to give a second thought to someone for the sole reason they share our blood line?

So then what is family? What do you think? Do you find that you are closer to your family or friends?


rehtwo said...

Family isn't solely defined by blood, but I think you knew my opinion on that already :). And yes, I think that we can love our friends as family, but then again, I was raised to think that blood isn't an issue. Some of my friends accept me for who I am in a way that some members of my extended family apparently cannot. However, I do think that we have obligations to our families, no matter the animosity that we have toward them, but I don't think that love necessarily has anything to do with that - and no, that doesn't mean that I believe that I have obligations to my biological parents other than being thankful that they brought me into this world. I hate hearing reunion stories of other TNAs where the bio parents expect their "long-lost" offspring to shower them with money and gifts - those belong to the people who raised me and treated me as family.

momyblogR said...

A very good question, and as I've gotten older my thoughts on the subject has changed greatly.

Growning up I was quite close to the majority of my cousins, Aunts and Uncles. I'd say mostly because the adults, (our parents) socialized together. We all enjoyed eachothers companys and always had a great time. There were also lots of memories made. However, as I've gotten older I have lost touch with most of them with the exception on one that I am still very close to.

I believe the reason has nothing to do with being "family", it's because we actually like eachother and have a mutual respect for one another.

Having the same bloodline doesn't always mean closeness. It's does mean there is an obligation to one another and with some luck the family members will like eachother.

It's about the people and who they are to you. I have a girlfriend of 20 years that I couldn't be closer to if she was my sister and in some respects I am closer to her.

So, to me, family are the people in your life you have a great love and respect for, regardless of whose blood is running in their veins.

Aisha said...

Rehtwo, wow talk about foot in mouth. I did not mean that family is only defined by genetics, but really the focus was can you be family with people who are clearly not your family over people who are your family. I hope to one day adopt and there is no question they would be family. I guess its a sense of word choice resulting in foot in mouth. But you did mention that some peoplel ike an aunt I think in your extended family network isn't too great with you. Do you keep in touch with such people despite it? I just feltl ike once I got married the extended family.. they fell to the wayside once I didn't have my parents to drag us places. I also agree there are obligations with family members that may be outside of what we desire but what we must do as members of a common family.

Mommyblogr, exactly! I was close to a lot of extended family for the same reason. But as adults its not there. I do keep in touch with one aunt and her daughter but otherwise its nonexistent. some ofi t is my fault in that I'd rather keep it that way with some family members, and some of it is not... you are right though the family I keep in touch with has less to do with that they are family but more to do with there is a geunine affectino for one another. Really good point!

momyblogR said...

I just want to share a perfect example of having family that is not "really" family.

My husband and I moved away from our home state, for various reasons. Bought a home and started our own family. Well, not having any bloodline Grandparents near is exactly why these people are so loved.

Our neighbors, who are old enough to be mine or my husbands parents have no grandchildren and won't have any. They have completely adopted my children as their own. They are truly their Grandparents and when introduced that is how it's done. "These are my grandchildren" OR "This is my childrens Grandmother" wit no explaination. They are listed on every emergency form at school and elsewhere, are willing to watch them, race to doctor appts. or even hospital if needed. and have full authority to act as such.

Here were two people so willing to extend themselves to us, taking us in as there own and me so willing to share my children with them. There couldn't be a more loving relationship between us all. Now, THAT is family.

My children do have great relationships with their blood related Grandparents but because of distance it's difficult.

Ok, I just wanted to share that,is seemed to apply to this post!


Enyur said...

I don't think there is one exact definition for the term 'family' anymore. Back in the days it was...your blood-relatives that defined the term. Today, things seem different. Personally, I think the term "family" extends beyond the 'immediate' genetic family. A 'familial' bond depends on how close you are to the other person. Sometimes you may not feel the same closeness with your siblings but would feel like you can tell your friend almost anything - without hesitation.

In a nutshell, it's the comfort you feel around someone or a group of people that defines the term family. E.g. when we marry someone, that special someone becomes 'family' (assuming you feel that closeness with this person).

I grew up in a close-knit family (immediate family that is), so I've been more closer to my family then anyone else. Although, I do have one good friend that I think I can always trust because we've been through thick and thin.

Shabina said...

Lovely post :)

I know for the sake of legality, there has to be a solid definition of family.

But at the end of the day, whether by blood or by choice, by birth or happenstance, family is everything.

Shabina said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

that is so beautiful api.

mezba said...

I know for me, family is paramount. These are people I take for granted, drop all pretense and they accept me for what I am. Even with close friends, if there are fights, disagreements or clashes, they can drift apart. Family is family. For me, family comes first.

Mia said...

Fantastic post! I was raised not to define family by shared DNA. Family are the people that love you, and in turn you love. They worry about you, discipline you when needed, praise you when you deserve it, cry at your graduations, brag about your accomplishments to everyone and anyone whether the people know you or now. When introduced to someone for the first time they already know you and like you thanks to your “family” always talking about you to them. Family are the people who dislike your current boyfriend because they feel he is not good enough for you, then again in their eyes no one is ever good enough for you unless they pick him out for you. It is because this that despite the fact that I have no biological aunts on either side of my family my aunt Nora is loved beyond all reason. To me she is my aunt because my heart tells me so.

mystic-soul said...

There is only one unconditional love in this world and thats of parents (I call it thandi chaun). I believe parents love is above anything.I doubt friends can get equivalent to siblings.

Aisha said...

Mommyblogr, that story of your neighbors gives me chills. That is absolutely amazing. Your kids (and you and your hubby) is very lucky to know such wonderful people who blended like this into your lives.

Enyur, yeah its definetly a lot of things. And going through issues/trials is definetly one of those thins that bond you together

Shabs amen to that. No matter how you define it, its one of the most important things we have...

Thanks Ami Jaan :)

But Mezba do you feel hat way about extended family as well. I guess for me I've seen the extended aspects drift apart much like friends do. Not my brothers or parents, but extended networks.

Mia, I would never have guessed that your Aunt Nora was not your genetic auntie because your love and devotion to one another is clear in all your writings. But I think your definition of family should be submitted to webster, that is the family definition I agree with 100%. :)

Mystic, depends on your siblings though doesnt it? :)

aragorn said...

as a new born child, ur parents and their family are ur family. family is needed for the child more than the family itself. so as a child what u get is more like a "system default"...[:P]....... but as u grow old u can define the limit of ur own family. it can include friends/ppl u like. in my thoughts ur family is ur friend. and a friend is someone u can trust/rely on. it can be ur schoolmate/playmate/colleage/parents as well. which means u cant categorize family into genetic/nongenetic.... thats what i think....:D

mezba said...

Extended family eh.. actually i have more in common with my cousins who are here in NA than those back in bdesh, who I hardly relate to.

wayfarer said...

I'm definately closer to my hubby's family than my own. I think it depends on how you were raised and what type of parents you have.

Tee said...

It's easy for me to say sugary sweet things about family because I have a great family. I love them and they love me. It's pretty normal and healthy, etc.

Not everyone is so lucky. My husband for one. To him blood family seems more like an obligation, a cultural tie, a history.

Some of the greatest "families" are made up of completely unrelated people. Parents of adopted children will tell you that. Firefighters are famous for their brotherly bond.

Family can not be defined by blood alone.

Sonia said...

This is a very interesting post. After I came to US, my favourite TV show was "Golden Girls". I did not understand the concept behind it until many years later. American media is moving away from family oriented (blood family) shows to one with friends as your family (Friends, Seinfield, Designing Women, Sex and the City, and ofcourse Golden Girls) and many more. But honestly I have not seen that trend in real life even in US yet. True marriage rate is really low in US and divorce rate is so high and more and more people are getting married and having children later in life but does that mean that people are actually adopting friends as family? So is art imitating real life or is it predicting the future? Very thought provoking.

Anyway as usual very good post :-)

Aisha said...

Aragorn, thanks for sharing.

Mezba very true, but I would say I relate more to friends and can depend more on friends than even extended family who actually live here. Sad huh?

Wayfarer, true true.

Tee very true.

Sonia, you know there was a newsweek article on this very topic you mention. That these shows are wildly successful but their practice is not as common. I guess its an ideal we want rather than actually have.

Rabia said...

well, this usually comes up in medical world when making decisions for people. we are not suppposed to talk to people unless they are the family of the patient. if they are friends, i am legally not allowed to inform them of their friend's health. i find this frustrating for the reasons you mentioned: some people are closer to their friends than their family. what does the law really say?

Aisha said...

rabia wow I bet you see that a lot? I dont know yet what the law says but my Family Law class will surely tell me :) And when I find out I'll be sure to share.

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