A favourable family environment is one that is cohesive, encourages interdependence and fosters personal growth. A healthy family enjoys various intellectual, artistic and recreational activities together and has a stable and strong social network. Each one of us desires and strives to make our family experience a truly pleasurable one. The little secrets that every family has, makes the whole experience more interesting, private and a source of immense strength. For some, it is the time they spend together and activities that they indulge in collectively that make their family environment more fulfilling, while for some others it is the social network and friends.
The latter group of people attaches a lot of importance to ‘family friends’ in their lives. For them, family friends play many roles. They are partners in joy and sorrow, allies in making decisions, and trusted buddies to whom they turn to for advice. Such people look forward to spending special moments with their friends and have no barriers speaking their minds out. For them, family friends are an encouraging source, which allows them to take pride in their strengths and deal with their weaknesses. With family friends, every interaction is a learning experience, means of enhancing every individual’s personhood. Above all, family friends are a reliable mate who they know will accept them unconditionally allowing them to be the way they are.
Looking at the various functional roles family friends play in our lives, anybody would wish to be blessed with such caring and trustworthy family friends. Relationships, however, are truly a subjective experience and hence each individual feels it differently. I have come across a few families who dread the term family friends. Surprisingly, there was a time when these very people had thick buddies of their own. A and B were partners in business. For years, their families enjoyed being together, sharing moments of happiness and misery. In due course, disagreements cropped up in their business and petty tiffs became full-blown conflicts. Business matters seeped into family lives, creating a rift between the two families. As time passed, things worsened. Finally, the business partners parted ways breaking all professional and personal ties with each other. It was a bitter transition for both families to see such a harsh debacle of their relationship.
Meeting of minds
Many a times, the nature of family friendship depends on how the families became friends. The friendship may have passed on through generations or may have been generated through business relationships or from social gatherings or family outings. Every family has its own special story of how they met their family friends, and how their bond deepened and relationship flourished over the years. Regardless of how the relationship was initiated, there are certain common as also special rules that guide every relationship so that the relationship doesn’t meet a bitter end like in the case of A and B.
Drawing the line
Differences of opinion: Each one of us is aware that individual differences exist, however most of us fall short of accepting and respecting these differences. We need to understand that despite certain similarities in such a relationship, there are two families with different beliefs, values, lifestyle, choices, and preferences involved. Family friendship can be a truly rewarding experience when each family understands the difference between involvement and interference.
Mutual liking: Also, it is important to ensure that the family friends’ company is enjoyable to each member of your family. The interaction should not be forced on any member. Each family needs to have certain collectively determined views of what should and should not be discussed with family friends. It helps ensure and respect privacy of each member of the family.
Strictly family: Every family may decide on a specific ‘family time’ just for members of the family. In this time, each member gets space to discuss his/her own issues pertaining to various aspects of life and decisions may be taken collectively. Every family needs to decide the privacy boundary for itself while interacting with family friends and make sure that is not breached. Families may collectively decide to consider perspectives and opinions of family friends when making important decisions but the final decision may rest only with the family. No matter how enmeshed two families are, some level of social distance is required.
Two-way talk: For a family friendship to become a satisfying experience for each family, open communication between the families may be encouraged where similarities and differences may be explored. This may enable them to enjoy similar interests and activities as also develop tolerance towards dissimilarities that may be present. Or else in times of dismay, the differences and suppressed negative feelings ooze out and worsen the already damaged situation like in the earlier example. Had these been communicated aptly at the right time, the intensity of the mishap could have been less.
Every family enjoys the right to enjoy social connectedness in the form of family friendships. It also has the responsibility of persevering that relationship without harming the family fabric.
Accepting and respecting individual differences may go a long way in enjoying a good social life, simultaneously retaining family solidarity and private space.