Hey y’all! It’s been a while! I got swept up in mental health stuff, school stuff, and work stuff this semester, but I haven’t forgotten about you. I’m hoping that with stable work schedules and better meds (maybe?) that I can get back in the swing of things this summer.
This week marked the 10th anniversary of me moving to Iowa, which is huge! 10 years ago I left a pretty crappy family in Florida and started building up a family of choice in Iowa. It’s been hard, but 100% worth it.
I was raised in an environment where relationships were temporary and interactions between people were transactions. I give you something, you repay me with something else.
Keep score, so you know the terms and expiration date.
Relationships became obligations.
It made navigating relationships as an adult very awkward. There aren’t a lot of good models for healthy, stable families in the media, so relearning how to create and keep a found family has taken a lot of investigation: reading, watching, asking. It takes a lot to reprogram bad relationship habits, even when you spend years in therapy, and I’m still learning and working.
It’s why I’m such a sucker for romances set in small towns with interfering parents, marriages of convenience, and snowstorms that trap people together. It’s why I will defend Glee until the day I die because it gave me the Hudson-Hummels. It’s why I binge-watch Parks and Rec and police procedurals. It’s why I’m currently obsessed with the adorable webcomic Check, Please!
They all pitch in on the framework of ideal relationships–romantic, platonic, or familial.
I’ve gone through several sets of replacement parents–usually ghosting out of their lives after a while, out of fear of abandonment or disappointing them, or because it complicates the relationship I have with their children, who are usually my friends.
Cultivating a found family of peers has been a lot easier, even if it doesn’t fulfill the same needs a parent would satisfy. But creating a found family is common–and oftentimes a necessity–in the LGBTQ community, so most of my hodgepodge family is some shade under the queer rainbow.
My social circles have always had some degree of overlap, but I’ve stretched my extrovert wings a lot more this year and embraced new members into my found family. Some are more queer peers from Facebook groups, some are parents and grandparents from my mom hobbies (crochet and planners).
This spring break, I had my first adult vacation: a week-long crochet cruise in the Caribbean which I spent months saving up for. I was nearly a Lifetime Original Movie. A couple from my group stepped in when a shady local seemed intent on making me his bride, and I had a set of parental bodyguards for the rest of the trip. Now I get cute messages and check-ins on Facebook every day. It’s a nice feeling, but it’s still hard.
How often should I call? Visit? What are appropriate birthday gifts? Is it weird to call them My Parents now? Do I invite them to my scholarship award ceremony? Do I list them as my emergency contact?
How do I balance my relationship with this new framily, who live in a totally different state, with the family of choice I’ve been growing for the 10 years I’ve lived in Iowa?
There isn’t really a guidebook out there for this, and there definitely isn’t a guidebook on How To Build and Keep Your Family of Choice.
As much as you want everything to operate the way a Normal Family should, the social dynamics of found families are different because there’s no guarantee. You don’t have the social expectation of maintaining the relationship like you’re “supposed to” with blood relatives, so outsiders don’t see them as permanent or ~As Real~ as biological family.
So how do you keep everything in working order with your family of choice?
Follow their lead.
I have a tendency to be really extroverted and clingy when I first meet someone. We must be best friends! All the time! Pay attention to me! Please! I come on pretty strong–eventually I calm down, but it’s hard for me to balance being really excited to have someone new in my life and respecting their space and boundaries.
When in doubt, you have not called home enough.
Your framily is always wondering how you’re doing. Everyone appreciates a nice phone or Skype call every once in a while, just to catch up and feel included in each other’s lives.
Update them more often than your Facebook.
Granted, most of my communication with my family of choice is through Facebook (posting on each other’s walls, Messenger group chats) but they should know more than what you post on your Facebook wall. These are important people–they deserve to have more insight into your life than what you share with 300 former classmates, coworkers, and people you met at a party one time.
Be there when stuff happens.
If something is going on in their lives, good or bad, be there for them. Give them your time and attention when they need it.
Nothing brightens my day as much as when my yarn mama posts a cute thing on my wall or sends me a unicorn-rainbow-cat Hallmark card in the mail. And I know (I hope!) she appreciates the little things I share just with her.
Birthdays, holidays, anniversaries, even random Thinking Of You moments are perfect for sending a little note or message your framily’s way to let them know that even when you’re apart, you’re still a part of each other’s lives.
Tell them you appreciate them.
Everyone wants to feel appreciated and loved. Tell them how grateful you are that they’re a part of your life, and how much you love having them around. Tell them how they’ve made your life better. Be grateful for their presence in your day.
Believe them when they say they care.
I’m really good at giving advice but not so great at taking it–especially this tip right here. Growing up questioning everyone’s true intentions has made me doubtful when it comes to people saying they care about me. It’s a hard habit to break. Even knowing that after 10, 15, even 20 years, someone still wants to be a part of my life, it is hard to believe they don’t have ulterior motives.
So, take baby steps on this one, and start to trust your family of choice when they say they love you.
Accept that there is no perfect family, but the one you made yourself is pretty good.
Everyone in your framily–including yourself–will make mistakes. We’ll all hurt each other at some point. We’ll fight, and disagree, and go weeks without talking to each other at all. No family is perfectly functional or happy. But if you still drift back to each other in one piece and your good memories significantly outweigh the bad ones, you’re doing pretty okay.
Don’t be afraid to cut ties with unhealthy relationships.
No family is perfect, but that doesn’t mean you have to put up with abuse. Know the difference between one-off shitty behavior in an otherwise healthy friendship, and consistently toxic behavior. Cut that shit out of your life–you shouldn’t have to take it from your “real” family or your found family.
In the end, treat your found family the way you want family to treat you.
It’s the golden rule, right? Think about what you want from a family of choice, and try to bring that to your relationships.