Blood is Thicker than Water

This is not a statement most teenagers believe. It’s a classic struggle. The teen separates him or herself from the family by finding a group of friends to spend time with and pushing away from the family. Not every teen does this. Mr. Geeky says he didn’t really do that too much, but he says his sister was “raised by her peers.” I felt that to be true about myself, and I felt that my parents could have done things to prevent that. Looking back now, I know my parents were going through their own stuff and that just a year after I graduated high school, they were in the process of separating.

So I tried as a parent to provide reasons to believe the statement: having more family activities, spending more time with extended family, having more open lines of communication. To some extent we’ve succeeded, but not entirely. But I think I’ve done the best I can, because honestly, teens do need to have a peer group and they will be going out and making their own lives and their own families, and it is healthy to have connections outside the family. I know people whose primary, and sometimes only, peer connections are family. And that’s not good either.

I have only one or two friends from high school and/or college, people I connect with when I’m home or visiting their cities. One thing my kids don’t realize is that that might be the case for them as well. Family will always be there and can often provide a better safety net than friends. It’s also true that sometimes friends are more supportive than family. I know people whose families are unhealthy. But I also know that people with healthy families just seem more stable, and that it’s harder to launch into the world without the foundation of the family. But I see teens, both my own and some of my students, who sometimes think they’re just going to go it alone. And I see parents who are too involved.

So it’s a balancing act. And it’s a difficult one as a parent. You want to follow your child’s lead, but you also have the benefit of having been there and learned these lessons before. You don’t want your kids to learn them the hard way, but you can’t always prevent that from happening. Which is not fun to watch. But that’s what parents are for, to pick kids up and help them learn those lessons. And that role, I’m realizing, is going to last a long time.

3 Replies to “Blood is Thicker than Water”

  1. This is the transition I’m most afraid of, seeing my kids move out of our little family cocoon and finding other nests they might prefer spending time in. But doesn’t that say as much about me as it does about them, that I probably need to be proactive about carving out some portion of my life that isn’t so focused on my kids? I don’t want to be overinvolved, but I don’t want my kids raised by their peers either. Tough one, for sure.

  2. I think you are right that family is always there, in a way that very few friends can be counted on. Some folks to build very stable friend networks, but those networks require more cultivation that family networks. People make the mistake that family networks don’t require cultivation, and that’s not true. But, family networks (with the presumption of a healthy family in the first place) are growing the networks in fertile soil.

    But, with a teen trying to separate, and the family being the immediate family, I think the answer is that our we can keep the nuclear family available for the kid even if they’re not willing to spend much time grooming it right now. Getting the sibling networks strong enough requires more work, though. My sisters and I are there for each other as a family and were close as youngsters. We aren’t necessarily the choice of friend we pick at all times, but we are there for the hard times. I do want to help my kids maintain that connection as they grow older, but I think it can be allowed to ebb and flow and still remain strong.

  3. I’m already thinking about these issues when CG is 10 (she is at the moment going back and forth between clinginess and independence). Seems like part of our job is to make sure that family space is available and open, even in the face of what looks like rejection.

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