I was reading back through some of my earlier blog post. One caught my eye and stuck in my mind. I was writing about our different families: those that we are born with, and then those that we choose for ourselves. Beyond our spouses and our children, we also choose our families with the friendships we make. Especially overseas, where we often live across oceans from our biological families, it is vital to create a support system for ourselves. These are the people we turn to in moments of happiness and sadness, when we need social support and when we need companionship. When our day doesn’t go quite right, or when we have an emotional issue, we turn to our family.
I had written the original post when my hubby was in Afghanistan, and I was having to deal with life, kids, and just every day with only skype calls from him. It was hard. And then I started making friends and reaching out to those around me. Don’t get me wrong, it was still hard. But it helped immensely to share my burden, even as I helped my friends share theirs. Turns out, if you reach out to help another with their load, it lightens your own.
Now, as we near Thanksgiving, and the time traditionally colored as ‘Family Time’, I think once again about how many dear dear people I have in my life. I value what they all bring to me: a quick email with a random thought, a chat on Skype about just anything, a e-card sent with a funny note. It all means so much, and it helps me to remember how vast my family really is.
I’ve been writing a lot about gratitude, both for ourselves and for our children. Taking the time to reflect on what individuals bring to our lives, to enhance our every day, this is something to be grateful for.
I believe we have two families. The first, we are born with. Or adopted into, if you like. This family is one we can’t escape, and one who forms us. We get our opinions, our reactions and our inclinations from them. This family is ours, no matter what. You don’t have to like them, but you do have to love them. They are ours to keep, like it or not.
Our second family is the one we choose. This is our spouse and our friends. These people are often the ones we turn to when in pain or sorrow or laugh with when we find joy.
My second family has two parts: Foreign Service friends and my stateside friends. Sometimes the circles overlap, especially in DC. My Foreign Service friends live all around the globe. Sometimes it goes years without visits, but often these are the people who have been with me through hard and good times. They’ve seen me pre-kid and right-post-pregnancy. They’ve gone with me to be beside me during birth. They’ve visited me in the hospital when my kid was admitted with who knows what and stumping doctors in multiple countries. They’ve climbed to tops of temples with me, and spit watermelon seeds with me. We’ve gone snorkeling together and dove with the dolphins. We’ve watched bush babies together and climbed with the colobus monkeys to Udzungwa falls. We’ve lazed on the beach together and played marathon trivial pursuit games. Thanks to the Internet, we can easily stay in touch.
My stateside friends are just as dear. Meeting them, and enjoying the loving support they gave me in the year that my hubby was in Afghanistan helped me through a year that would have been utterly painful without their support. These lovely people listen to me whine and allow me to just be, especially on days when it all just seemed too huge. These friends helped me weed, watched one or two of the kids so swimming lessons weren’t as awful, and gave me the patient support that a mom needs. These friends helped me laugh and let my boys nap. These friends gave my kids (and me) loving nurturing and supportive shoulders. We’ve played family soccer together. These friends have been for me, and thankfully, the Internet helps me keep in touch with them, too, now that we are overseas again.
Where would we be without this ability to reach out and touch … and stay in touch? The Internet is the best of inventions, at least when it comes to staying connected and keeping connections.
I finally took some time to stop and think about what I have, and realized how much I value the people I have in both of my families. You don’t get to choose which family is more important; they are both yours. So embrace them, and include them. And, most importantly, appreciate them. You don’t get to choose all of your family members, but I promise, ever single one of them bring some sort of benefit to you. Sometimes you have to look a little harder, but you can find it.