What is it like to have a family?
November 22, 2016 10:50 AM   Subscribe

I don't have family, but the overwhelming majority of my friends are not in the same boat. A lot of them are currently experiencing heightened levels of family-related issues due to the events of 11/8 and I feel totally unequipped to respond to their plight because I have no idea what it's like to feel... familial feelings, I guess? Can you help me understand what it is like to have a family? Why is it considered so meaningful?

The collection of concepts that "family" comprises is lost on me, aside from "one or more adults who are legally required to prevent you from starving or freezing to death until you turn 18." By choice, I don't have a mom or a dad or siblings, and it is A-OK. It's very easy to sympathize and empathize with people in any number of other circumstances that are foreign to me, but whenever anyone tells me about family strife in particular, all my brain has to offer is, "You're an adult, that means you don't have to interact with these people anymore and vice versa. So stop talking to them. Problem solved!"

But even though many folks even seem to have downright antagonistic interactions with their relatives, they usually choose to maintain at least some kind of relationship with them (Facebook, occasional email forwards, grandkid visits, etc.) "because it's family," which makes me feel like a weirdo for going 100% no-contact. And then I read stuff like this and feel like even more of a weirdo, because I absolutely thrive in the absence of family. Why is family qua family considered so important by so many people, even people who are hurt and denigrated by their families? And how can those of us who have no family best sympathize and empathize with those of you who do?

Infinite apologies if this query seems dickish or willfully obtuse - I just want to be able to feel more capable with advice and solidarity when my friends are working through family stuff in my presence, as this seems to be an especially tough time of year for basically all of them. Thank you.
posted by amnesia and magnets to Human Relations (2 answers total)

This post was deleted for the following reason: Heya, sorry, this is basically so broad as to be chatfilter. -- LobsterMitten

You don't need to know what they're going through to know that they're hurting, or anxious, or whatever. Just listen and say "That sucks" occasionally. If they ask "Do you know what I mean?", just say "Yeah. That sucks." If they say "I don't know what to do", just say "I know what you mean. That sucks." Trust me: they are not actually looking for a solution from you. They just want to vent, and for someone to commiserate.
posted by Etrigan at 11:04 AM on November 22, 2016

I used to have a family with whom I did not enjoy spending time and the relationship between us was antagonistic at best ("thrive in the absence of" is a perfect way to put it.) Then they all died. Then I got married and have been relatively well integrated into my wife's family who I like a lot and for whom I'm actually much more willing to go out of my way to help (or so I'd like to think.)

Anyway, as my family was dying, I had to take care of all of them to certain extents. They had nurses and home attendants but still, I had to take care of people who I didn't like or wanted to be around! Make sure they were safe in their hospices and getting proper medical care and stuff! Why? Because literally no one else was going to. That's where the "because it's family" thing kicked in. It was either let these people die in the hands of the state, or do a bunch of shit to make sure they died in a slightly less arduous way. It barely felt like a choice, or at least no more or less a choice than "eating food" and "going to sleep." My anxiety got so bad I developed physical symptoms (for me that's a huge, bad sign) and that was actually while doing stuff. If I had completely ignored them, I have no idea how I would've ended up psychologically, but it would've been worse.

I'm a huge, huge proponent of no-contact if you can pull it off but not everyone can just because people have the sorts of bonds I describe above, but often don't actually examine them to the extent that giving them up is even an option. And then for these people, it's a lower-stakes version of the above. Maybe no one is going to die, but certainly people are going to get annoying, call incessantly, tell relatives, and summon up a veritable maelstrom of social consequences that unless you want to go no contact with a shitload of people and enforce it, it's just easier to acquiesce (and that's before even getting into the idea that going no-contact on abuse relatives could mean cops at your door or, god forbid, involuntary psych assessments and so on.)
posted by griphus at 11:05 AM on November 22, 2016

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