The importance of ‘found family’ among friends during the holiday season

Ciara Serpa, Advertising Manager

With the holidays coming up, many students are prickled at the thought of having to spend time with their family, whether immediate or extended. While I am blessed to have a good relationship with my parents, some students are not. The holiday season can be difficult for everyone, especially if you factor in things like mental or chronic illness. Some students hide home problems like an ill family member, toxic living situations or trouble with the distance. I am often reminded of these difficulties when I talk to my “cousin” Cami, who studies in New York, but whose whole family lives in North Dakota.

Once you enter college, you are more likely to make strong bonds and relationships with the people that you choose to surround yourself with. These people usually understand you more, which can make unfortunate family circumstances that much more difficult to deal with when you’re forced to go home. Therefore, I believe that “The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb.”

The traditional belief of “family loyalty to the death” is overrated when said family forgets that love is an action and not just implied. Everyone has different backgrounds and family dynamics, and this is essential to remember when conversing with your peers.

Those of us with good family relationships tend to feel defensive when others make critical comments or snarky remarks about their own family. This is a huge mistake. Instead of taking these things personally, it is a better practice to be open-minded and willing to let the other person explain why they feel this way – only if they want to. A good friend actively listens and offers support. This reinforces your friendship and allows your friend to know that you actually care about their feelings, not just their words. At times, all you need is to say “I don’t understand first-hand, but I’m here to learn if you feel comfortable sharing.”

There are times where even telling your family something simple like a bad grade on an exam proves harder than telling a friend the same news. This is a minor example in comparison to other hard conversations, but it proves the same point. Family dynamics are complex and often hard to gauge when you aren’t a member.

Something that I’ve found to help is offering your friend to come experience life with your family for a weekend or a holiday, but please ask your parents before trying this at home. When my “cousin” Camicomes to stay at my house during the holidays, I try to make sure she’s comfortable and enjoying herself. The goal isn’t for Cami to forget the distance between her and her family, but for her to feel like she has a second family with us.

This season excites with the prospect of gifts, a break from studying and home-cooked food, which can often blind us. During the upcoming holidays, remember to check in on your friends and make them feel like they have a safe space to confide in you. Always remind them that you love them. You never know what kind of things your friends are dealing with until you hear them out loud.