being family to those without family

“Her is ours now!”

This was the declaration of a new 5 year old friend when she discovered I didn’t have my own family. She had inquired about it after a few visits where I’d shown up clearly without one! “Does she have a family?” Her dad assured her I had parents and siblings, but she was thinking more about the kind of family that would come along with me. After some reflection, she made the decision that this ‘no-family’ situation would just not do and announced my immediate and complete adoption into hers!

Out of the mouths (and hearts) of babes.

The reality is that there are many Singles who journey life in the void of all that we are designed to express and experience in family. That’s where you and we come in! The opportunity exists for us to be family to those without family. Here’s some thoughts to consider as we endeavour to do that and do it well.

not all singles are created equal

Every Single is unique. Personality and temperament; factors like extroversion or introversion, history, circumstances or life stage, contribute to ensuring every Single has a unique set of needs as well as contributions to offer. While some generalisations might be made about certain demographics, there are often more exceptions than inclusions.

assume nothing – talk about everything

The only way to ensure what is on your heart to offer to a Single in your world is going to be accepted in the manner you’ve intended is to avoid assumptions and ask lots of questions. What are the situations that you find most difficult? How can I best support you? Is it helpful if I did “this” or would it be better if I did “this”? I read/heard/saw this from another Single, is that your experience? How does it differ? etc Often, things done with the greatest heart to help and include miss the mark because of the misalignment of expectations that could be easily averted if communication had been clearer.

what you take for granted

In the busyness and monotony of your every day life it can be easy to take for granted some of the things you experience in family (and potentially, even begrudge them). The buzz of noise and chatter as family goes about their regular routine, the sharing of responses over something seen on tv, serving one another in practical ways, incidental contact that happens as you move around each other, externally debriefing your day, a kiss goodnight – all this and more takes place in your home constantly and, often, without much thought. Singles often experience deep longing for these experiences and also could benefit from the grace, capacity for compromise and others focus that these circumstances demand.

the gift of normal

Don’t underestimate how powerful it might be to include a Single friend in the normality of your life. As chaotic or mundane as it might feel to you, it could be an incredible gift to someone whose day to day is often absent the dynamic these family environments bring. It’s possible to inadvertently communicate to a Single person that they’re an imposition or separate to your family when there’s a sense that they require a level of ‘hosting’ that is disruptive, rather than a type of inclusion that is mutually beneficial.

singles have more to lose

True, the responsibility to extend invitation, action social planning or nurture relationships doesn’t rest solely on those who are friends to the Single. But, the reality is that in the instigation or execution of such interactions a Single has less to offer and more on the line. If your family invites a Single person to dinner – whether they say yes or no, you’ll still be having a family dinner; if they cancel last minute, you’ll still be having family dinner. For a Single – the contrast is stark and so the risk is greater. When a Single invites a family to their house, they can’t offer an existing social dynamic – you’ll need to bring that with you. Until you are there, nothing is happening! It might seem an obvious point to make but perhaps it’s a perspective you haven’t fully considered. It’s certainly a dynamic by which many Singles feel hamstrung.

monitor & adjust

Seasons and circumstances are constantly changing. What works in one stage of family or life rhythm will need to be adapted as things shift. A biological family navigates these transitions constantly and included others can also – but it requires communication. The courage to ask the questions as changes happen will ensure that relationships are kept strong and mutually edifying as each new season is embraced.

LISTEN HERE – for further ideas for being family to those without family

READ THIS (“arriving alone”) – a practical encouragement to support Singles by helping them overcome a simple yet often debilitating obstacle

 

 

friendship that goes the distance

After knowing each other for 25+ years, going to the same church for 16, being travel buddies for 7 and housemates for 5 – my best mate Jacqui (aka, Jac, Jacster, Bert to my Ernie, radio call-sign Cuddly Bear) moved overseas in March 2014.
Many sad faces.

We navigated the transition and now, 2.5 years later, we’ve settled into a new kind of friendship. While we were always confident we’d be able to sustain a long distance friendship we have both been pleasantly surprised to see our bond strengthen and grow.

Here are some things we’ve learned along the way.

Jacqui’s 3 tips

  • Know where your friend is!

The more you understand the context in which your friend is doing life, the better you’re able to share in the journey. It’s a huge blessing that Kim has been able to visit me, see where I live and work, and meet my friends and wider community. Though it’s not quite as good as her re-locating and living with me, having her understand so much of my life now is probably the next best thing.

If you can’t visit, make the effort to get to know about their new home, ‘meet’ the people in their world, ask for photos of the chaotic traffic they encounter. And if you’re the one who has moved away, make sure you stay aware of the place, the people and the circumstances that your friend is still living in. Keep asking the questions that help you stay connected to their world.

  • Don’t expect your friend to guess how you are!

Don’t you just love how a good friend will know exactly how you feel without you having to say a word? Physical distance is a pretty significant barrier to your typical cues of mood (like facial expressions, tone and body language) so it’s unfair to presume that your friend is going to know how you’re feeling and why.…unless you tell them. Resolve to always answer the, “How are you?” question honestly. Help your friend out by removing the guess work, by being open with where you’re at and what you need from them.

  • Decide not to be jealous.

Life is better – and certainly way more fun – with friends! Be a part of helping your friend to thrive in their new/changed environment by encouraging them to invest in new relationships. Be secure enough to know that it won’t change the depth of your friendship. It may even be that your own circle of friends is expanded as a result (I’m convinced that some of my new friends like Kim just as much, if not more, than me)!

Kim’s 3 tips

  • Don’t wait for BIG news – share ALL the news!

Keeping up with the little things is how our friendship remains current and connected. Rather than waiting for the time to write a big long email or to have an extended call/Skype, dropping a quick ‘hello’ message or update on a situation as it’s unfolding is far more reflective of ‘normal’ friendship and keeps one another in the loop.

FaceTime while you’re preparing dinner or doing other things rather than waiting for uninterrupted time (if it’s hard to find) – ultimately, it’s those ‘real-life moments’ that are most absent from long distance friendships and technology makes it possible to experience them together.

  • Don’t rain on the other’s parade.

When something significant happens in each other’s life it’s easy to go straight to the “Oh, I wish I was there!” or “I can’t believe I’m missing this!” This can seem like an expression of connective longing and missing but really is just a big buzz kill. I know you miss me, but isn’t this exciting?! Celebrate first. Champion each other publicly. Don’t make the other’s success or joy about your disappointment or exclusion.

Jacqui and I agreed to assume that we’re ALWAYS missing each other – we only need to express that when doing so is helpful – like when something particularly poignant is happening or when that feeling is overwhelming (refer Jacqui’s second point).

  • Develop new traditions and fun ways to interact.

We make a point to share random ‘awkward moments’ or laugh out loud experiences as soon as they happen. We send links to random vines or gifs that remind us of each other. We have a note book that we each write in and send back and forward with others who are travelling to and from Thailand (we tried the post but it got stolen so now we only trust personal human couriers). It is essentially writing the story of our friendship over this season and it’s fun to read back on it each time it arrives on our side of the world. We celebrate birthdays and important events with secret deliveries or surprises through third parties. We are one another’s number one fan and champion each other whenever the chance arises.

Long distance friendships are hard to sustain but relationships that matter are worth it. Some greater intentionality, adjusting expectations and lots of communication and it’s possible that, like us, you find your friendship bond continuing to strengthen.

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“12 thoughts of Christmas” #4: Great Expectations

All the Christmas-time commercials depict the most idyllic of family gatherings. The weather is always perfect, the table decorations are a work of art, the ham is larger than any home oven’s capacity to cook it and somehow the friends and family have all managed to coordinate their wardrobe perfectly!! Everyone is delighted with their gifts. Toddlers goo and gah in adorable reindeer ears (that stay on for more than 30 seconds!). The post-lunch cricket game is played by all in a manicured back yard. It seems almost too good to be true.

Probably because it is!

To start with, when is the weather ever perfect on a Christmas day in Melbourne?

The reality is that for many, even with the best intentions to the contrary, the family gathering can be a stress laden exercise that leaves you exhausted from the sheer effort of it all. And unfortunately for some, it can be downright painful! Many a family gathering ends in frustration or wounding and the angry car ride home where the question is raised, ‘why do we do that again?’

I think much of our disappointment in the reality of these gatherings can come down to expectations … unrealistic, unfulfilled, un-communicated or misaligned. Somehow what we anticipated the occasion to be sets us up for disappointment in what it actually is. Some thoughts to consider …

  • Communication is key to aligning your expectations with other family and friends (see blog #3 here). Be sure that you’ve thoroughly discussed what each of your events is to look like and help everyone be on the same page.
  • Presuming family will do family the same way is a recipe for disaster. The fact that siblings were raised in the same home/family does not mean they will all raise THEIR families the same way. Acknowledging that will go some way to having you accommodating the differences with a little more understanding.
  • Christmas gatherings are generally longer than any other social event you have throughout the year. For some, extended times of being social are actually quite tiring and it’s often toward the end of these that ‘tensions’ can arise. Know yourselves and your kids – don’t expect too much of energy levels and capacity for patience and tolerance.
  • Make the important things the important things. A ‘successful’ Christmas gathering is measured by the nature and quality of interactions and connections with people. That’s the important thing! Keep that in mind and it means that a flopped pav, a poorly received present or later-than-planned meal time really doesn’t have the power to ‘ruin’ your day.

“12 thoughts of Christmas” #3: Are you thinking what I’m thinking?

Have you ever fantasised about how much easier life would be if everybody thought the same way you do? How much simpler would that be, right? No one would ever misunderstand you. Everyone would ‘get’ you without you needing to spell it out. Imagine how much time you could save having to explain or justify yourself. Oh, what frustration you would avoid if everyone saw, thought, spoke and processed the same way as you … in the same time frame … with the same responses. Ahhh the bliss!

Ok, back from your little daydream to reality!!

The only one who thinks precisely like you is you!

I’m sure that’s not exactly breaking news to anyone but the reality is that a lot of communication break downs, relational stress and emotional ‘tension’ could be easily remedied if everyone could just KNOW what we were thinking! Right? Alternatively, it might be worth considering some more external modes of processing and communicating. J

Family and social gatherings are classic environments for misaligned thoughts and expectations (see blog #4 – Great Expectations) to wreak havoc on our capacity to enjoy those moments fully. When I said “I’ll bring my camera” I thought everyone would know I meant “I’ll be taking professionally posed family portraits so dress and prepare appropriately”. She said “let’s just keep it casual and hang out together over lunch” so why is she wearing high heels and carrying an antipasto platter the size of a small table while I’m in my sneakers and holding 2 roast chickens still in their bags? We said “let’s catch up after breakfast” – our kids have been waiting since 6:45am, it’s 11:30am and they’re still not here. When I said, “let’s just exchange small gifts this year” I didn’t mean this (*exchanges Gold Class tickets for 4 people for a Wonka’s lolly stocking*).

As you plan and prepare and gather in these coming days – be sure you’ve allowed some of your thinking to become helpful communication. So many hurts and misunderstandings could be avoided if we’d only taken just that little more time to clarify plans, expectations and perspectives. Let’s be humble enough to ask further questions and generous enough to give just a little more information