14 Reasons Friends Can Be the Best Family You’ve Ever Had
The American Dream was always a beautiful one: mom, dad, two kids, a big house, nice car and a well-behaved golden retriever for good measure. For millennials, however, that dream has changed.
While many still hope to recreate that ideal, millennials prioritize quality over quantity. Both moms and dads value time with their kids — in some cases, opting to wait years until they’re able to create the best environment to start a family. Overall, millennials are also more focused on experiences, strong social bonds and self care.
The result of all these factors? More young people today are delaying marriage and child-rearing, spending a greater portion of their 20s focused on personal development and social bonds. More 20-somethings than ever are also drawn by the allure of city life.
One study found that nearly 60 percent of millennials have migrated away from their hometowns. Because of this, when millennials are ready to start families, they’re often too far removed from parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents to rely on them for help. In place of familial support, millennials are turning to a network of friends and fellow parents instead — and here's why.
You Can’t Choose Your Family
A close-knit family is pretty much the building block of our society. That said, more millennials were children of divorce than any generation before. Some of those divorces were amicable, some not so much.
Many millennials have a trying family history for one reason or another. What was designed to be a strong support system can turn not-so healthy. The sense of obligation to remain tied to difficult family situations can leave millennials feeling stuck.
But You Can Choose Your Friends
Friendship doesn’t erase a tough family dynamic, but it gives you a chance to interact with people who are good for you.
The right friends take some of the weight off all the family drama and give you a place to be open, honest and 100 percent you.
Friends Support You in Ways Family Can’t
Family means well (usually), but often parents and siblings are unable to give the kind of support you actually need. Encouragement to pursue a career in the arts, for example. A shoulder to cry on when your relationship didn’t work out. You know, the one with the guy they didn’t like in the first place. A commiserating eye roll when you bring up your crushing student debt.
If you need a kidney, call your mom. If you need someone to reassure you that you won’t die alone with your cat in your studio apartment, a friend is the way to go.
Tight-Knit Friends Replace Missing Family Bonds
Having a supportive family is a universal dream, but for plenty of us, it’s not the reality. Whether you have tumultuous relationships with your parents, distant ones with your siblings or have dealt with early personal loss, a lack of strong familial ties can leave the best of us feeling lost.
While it takes time to develop close friendships, that bond can become powerful beyond belief. Trust grows each time a friend considers our needs first. Eventually, that trust develops to the point that friends have no doubt in each other’s loyalty. They may not be blood, but make no mistake, the right friends deserve to be considered family, too.
Friends Tell It Like It Is
More often than not, family puts up with you even at your worst. If you treat your friends poorly, however, you might lose them. If you’re being selfish, it’s not going to fly. If you’re unreliable, they’ll eventually move on to someone who can prioritize their friendship. If you’re being an utter ass, they won’t hesitate to let you know.
A good friend will be patient when you’re working through an issue, but there’s only so much a friend can take. If you don’t treat your relationship with the care and respect it deserves, even the best of friends will take a step back. Those moments inspire a long face-to-face in the mirror, and we should be thankful for that. The tough love of our friends inspires positive self-awareness that family rarely generates.
Having Extended Family Makes Life More Affordable
As a millennial living in Los Angeles, I can attest to the fact that … well, we poor. We SO poor. The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in L.A. is hovering around $2,371 a month. That’s nearly double my mom’s mortgage. For one person, anything below $54,000 a year qualifies as low-income — i.e., most of us millennials. Our lack of funds has not reduced our need, however, to get the heck away from our parents.
We need just as much time for self-discovery as every generation before us, and unlike the hippies, we don’t want our journey to take place in a tent. (Except maybe at Coachella.) Instead, millennials are banding together with close friends to rent apartments and homes. Together, they can afford much nicer places, escape the clutches of their loving (and overbearing parents) and discover themselves in style.
Being Part of a Community Fosters Personal Growth
Part of becoming a whole, fulfilled individual traces back to what we give. By becoming part of a community of extended family, we develop greater awareness of those around us — and our ability to impact them in a positive way!
Giving feels good, and in helping our friends and community, we develop a deeper sense of empathy, understanding and respect.
It Also Brings on Friends You’d Never Expect
Last year, my daughter’s school announced we would need to take part in a carpool. I didn’t love the idea. Some stranger driving my kid around? What if they text and drive? What if they feed her tons of junk? What if they’re just plain weird? As it turns out, joining that carpool was one of the best things that’s happened to our family. Not only was the family kind, fun and the perfect kind of weird (their house is purple, and they have a makeshift trampoline in the living room), they’ve become amazing friends.
Throughout the year, we’ve taken turns lending each other a helping hand. I’ve learned a lot about how our families are different and also how we’re exactly the same. We’re both crazy busy, for one, and have worked out how to help each other lighten our loads. I feel incredible gratitude for that help and have a new reminder of how important it is to give what we hope to receive.
Existing Connections Lead to New Opportunities
What goes around comes around, you get what you give, karma — call it what you want, but the more you take care of others, the more you’ll find the world takes care of you. Really. It sounds like a guru-ish gimmick, but it makes perfect sense.
Every time you help someone with your unique skills, there’s another person who can vouch for your abilities. Do a good job, and word travels quickly. You never know which friend knows a guy who knows a guy who’s waiting to hire you for your dream job … and all from being a great friend!
Tough Times? A True Community Has Your Back
As the Bill Withers’ classic reminds us, we all need “somebody to lean on.” Life is amazing, but all but the luckiest of us will face days that shake our confidence (ahem, 2020 in a nutshell). When you’ve lost your job, ended a long relationship, struggle with your health or anything else that leaves you feeling weighed down, call on your friends to lift you up.
Often, family members find it hard not to judge or criticize. Good friends, on the other hand, will listen. Whether through helpful solutions or a shared, 16-hour Netflix and ice cream binge, community can lift you up when you’re at your lowest.
Friends and Community Provide Irreplaceable Resources
You’re smart. I believe you. Even so, not even Einstein succeeded all on his own. Every great success story is built by helpers — people who fill in the bricks that are missing in your foundation of future growth.
No one is good at everything, and sometimes, we need help to fill in the gaps. By building an expansive extended family, you’ll always have someone to call on when you need a helping hand (like, say, when you need to figure out virtual learning with your kids). When help is available, it’s OK to take it — as long as you give back now and again, too!
More Chances to Inspire and Be Inspired
Growth is near impossible without motivation and inspiration. Pinterest is cute and colorful, but the best inspiration comes from the people right in front of you. Your family is comfortable and cozy, but you know all there is to know about them. You likely share patterns of thinking, too, even if you aren’t aware of it.
The more connections you have with a community, the more unique perspectives and ideas you’ll be exposed to. With a little inspiration, who knows what creations will arise!
Broadening Social Horizons Breaks Down Bigger Boundaries
Social division is an issue facing every generation. Our current political climate has pushed much of America onto one of two sides. Somewhere along the way, we forgot that the Republican or Democrat next door is our neighbor.
By bringing individuals with contrasting opinions into our circle, we’re reminded that life is about more than who we voted for. When we connect with people who are different from us, we open doors to understanding, mutual respect and peace. Another win for stepping outside family boundaries!
Giving Back Creates a Sense of Belonging
Unless you’re a zen master or a saint, being alone feels pretty, well, lonely. When you become an active member of a community, you prove that you have something worthwhile to offer. Knowing that your extended family values your contribution enough to lend a helping hand fills an important human need that birth families can’t always provide — the need to belong.
Extended families don’t replace the ones we’re born into. Instead, they give us a brand-new chance to experience connection, belonging, loyalty and one more big one: love.