Friends ARE Family

We might all benefit to make family out of friends.

The occasion of my daughter’s first birthday seemed like a good time to pause and reflect on the year, on how much she had grown, how much my life had changed, how ours had changed as a family. But something unexpected stood out in my thoughts: how many friends we made that year and how important they have become to me.

loneliness doesn’t have to be an inevitability

Isolation can be a problem for mew moms. As the initial excitement and influx of visitors taper off, often the partner returns to work and the new mom is left alone to care for her newborn. While some easily settle into a new rhythm of sleeping and napping and breast feeding, others exhaust themselves trying to adjust in the early weeks and months. We may know to ask for help when we’re struggling but it’s not always obvious where we should turn. Sometimes new mothers may also feel, because she has a beautiful, healthy new child, she has no right to complain. Whatever the roadblock(s) may be, isolation is an unfortunate and nasty result. Just get out of the house? To go where? With who? In our winters? Or invite someone over? What if a mom is the first among her friends to give birth? Or what if the others have older children, or any number of other reasons? Fact is, it’s not uncommon for new mothers to feel uncertain about who to reach out to and how.

My parents arrived here from England in the 60s with the Grenfell Mission. After a couple years living in other places they settled in Central Newfoundland. To the rest of our family, my parents, brothers and I are “the Canadian cousins”. It was odd growing up with friends who had such big families around them, including cousins and grandparents. I recall a group of high school classmates discussing weekend plans one time, and two of them had the same last name. One mentioned traveling to Conception Bay to visit family. “Oh,” said the other, “I have family there too.” I can’t remember the exact connection; perhaps her grandfather was his great uncle. Everyone laughed that these two were related and never knew it, then continued on their day. Our visits to see relatives, on the other hand, involved transatlantic flights, time zone crossings and a large international airport — I never really got used to it.

It’s not that we didn’t gain something from the experience; since our extended family members weren’t part of our daily lives, when we did see them the time was special. I was pen pals with cousins close to my age and through that we shared a connection I see in others who grew up with cousins closer to home. When family visited from Britain we would travel with them to the many corners of this beautiful island, perhaps coming to know Newfoundland in different ways than those who traveled from one town to another to see family.

embracing and supporting each other’s needs to build stronger communities

The reality is, more and more families are living without family nearby. Maybe we’re all in the province but live in different communities. Perhaps family members have had to move to Ontario or Alberta or elsewhere for work. Economic circumstances in the province have separated families geographically and brought in new families from away. But maybe our ties to each other have strengthened as a result. We know we have to reach out to each other for support and to build a sense of community. Within my circle of friends there is one family whose members live anywhere from next door to places as far away as Qatar. In short, if we embrace and support each other’s realities and needs, we might just end up diversifying and strengthening our communities.

Lacking that blood connection on this side of the Atlantic, my parents instead built a network for us. As a result, I never felt we lacked friends or support. There was an older lady down the street who I would drop in on when I waked home from school; she always had a tin of cookies. We walked three houses up the street to ride to church with our “Aunt and Uncle”. There was a car pool of about five moms who would rotate taking us to choir every Wednesday night. I still know the daughter of the woman my mom would walk me in the pram with when we were both infants, and I am blessed to still call her a friend.

So, to me my friends ARE family.

And I am blessed with strong, beautiful and powerful family.

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