Two Traits Broaden Meaning of 'Family'

Since Thanksgiving Day I’ve been pleasantly surprised to hear from a number of folks whose holiday table was characterized by an untraditional array this year.

I’m not speaking of food…but rather, of the people who shared in the feast. Along with family there were close friends, longtime neighbors, even a chummy coworker. Clearly, friendsgiving is a “thing.” And I’m a fan.

Billed as a celebratory dinner with friends that occurs either before or after the traditional food fest with family, I advocate that “friendsgiving” become the new model for comemmorating all of life’s festivities. A new model for living, even.

This is not an anti-family rant – not by a long shot. Family is hugely important to me. It always has been. Family is my anchor; a place of safety and acceptance in a not-always-kind world. That’s why I prioritized that my kids would have a strong sense of both their nuclear and extended families.

But here’s the difference. My notion of family goes broader and reaches deeper, deliberating drawing into my orbit those who, were I able to choose, would also have been blood sisters and brothers, aunts and uncles, elders and sages.

Given how different families look today than even a generation ago, expanding one’s notion of family isn’t that large a stretch. What I’m advocating is making it intentional. Actively choose to create a large circle around the table. Parents and children alike are navigating an evermore complicated and challenging world. It makes little sense to build walls. In fact, it’s this broader sense of family, of community, that is precisely how families will thrive.

So, what are the traits…the touchstones…by which I measure who becomes family? The list is short but powerful:

1.    Shared core values. These are the values I, as a parent, continually model for my children. Values like compassion, big-heartedness, gratitude, fairness, respect.

2.    Deep capacity for love. These people have the capacity to see beyond themselves and feel others’ joy and pain. People who love my children (almost) as much as I do.

When these are the touchstones for this new notion of family, everyone benefits. Kids have even more adults they can go to with problems and concerns. Adults get an unparalleled network of supportive, loving people who can share burdens and celebrate success. And we all get a safe place to take risks, try new ideas, and explore and experiment before broaching conversations in the wider world.

In short, it’s a recipe for a full, rich, expansive life. And who wouldn’t want that around their table?