When Your Family Doesn’t Cut It Create a New One

Family + Friends

Maud Purcell, Coach & Corporate Consultant

By Maud Purcell

From “The Cosby Show” to “The Sopranos,” Americans’ favorite TV shows revolve around family. Our cultural touch points reflect what’s important to us, and family certainly is. Family gives us a sense of connectedness.  Family is where we go for support and assistance. But sometimes, our families of origin can’t provide the emotional support we need, and we must find that support elsewhere.
Many women have had painful and damaging experiences at the hands of their family members.  As a practicing psychologist, I have clients who have never felt valued by their parents or siblings.  Others come from abusive or alcoholic homes, and some of my clients have no families at all. Even if you have a supportive family, there are life-changing events that can make you feel like an orphan – such as moving across the country.
In cases where women haven’t had families, or where family relationships have been highly toxic, they’ve figured out how to create their own support networks or “families.”  These women recognize that they are worthy of the love that families can provide.
If you want to create a happy “family,” consider following the steps they’ve taken:

  • Grieve the family you don’t have.  In order to move forward you must first mourn the loss – or the absence of -- the family you don’t have.  By experiencing your feelings of sadness and anger, you will eventually be able to accept your situation as it is, warts and all.  Acceptance does not mean that you maintain family relationships that may be harmful to you; it simply means that you’re no longer denying or fighting the truth.
  • Determine the kinds of “family” support you want. As an adult you’ve undoubtedly found ways to get most of your needs met.  What kinds of caring and support are missing in your life?  Do you long for a “mother,” someone who is older and wiser, and can lend perspective and a willing ear?  Would you like the steadiness of a “dad,” who will stand by you through thick and thin?  You might long for that “sister,” with whom you can safely share your deepest secrets.
  • Decide who can provide this support.  Some of these important people may already be part of your life.  You might find “family” members by reconnecting with old friends from high school or college. With the advent of social networking, doing so is easier than ever.  A wonderful way to discover “family” is by pursuing the things you love, such as sailing, singing,  skydiving or  joining a book group.
  • Strengthen these relationships.  Now that you’ve selected your family members, here’s how to proceed:

-- First, find creative ways to integrate these people into your life.  Volunteer, plant a garden, or exercise together.  Invite them last minute for popcorn and videos, or for a come-as-you-are party.  Use your imagination; the sky’s the limit.

-- Once you’ve established a connection, let these people know why they’re important to you.  As you become comfortable, explain the specific kinds of support you’d like from each of them. They will feel valued and needed.  And don’t forget to give back to them!

-- Overlook their faults.  Even created family members aren’t perfect. Accept them and they are likely to do the same for you.  Isn’t that what families are supposed to be about?

-- Develop unique rituals with your new family members.  And whenever feasible, bring them all together.  They may not feel an instant kinship with one another, but they will be joined together by their love for you!

Not having a loving family of origin will always be a source of sadness for you.  However, the ability to form your own family, comprised of those you’ve hand-picked, can provide endless comfort.
Maud Purcell, MSW, LCSW, CEAP, is a skilled and seasoned psychotherapist, as well as a trained Coach and Corporate Consultant. She is the owner of Maud Purcell & Associates Inc., and she writes a regular column for The Stamford Advocate, Greenwich Time, The Danbury Times and CT Post Newspapers.

Do you have a surrogate family? Tell us about it, or about the “family” you plan to create, in the comments.

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  • OMG! What an awesome idea! My biological family has certainly changed over the last 5 years. I always knew that the close knit family and friends that had been my experience was very special. When the dynamics of family closeness is altered because people do die and move away, it dramatically changes how you live, where you find support and just how you get through challenging passages that are part of life. The last five years of my life were marked with the loss of my best friend, my mom, my two sisters moved away to different cities, my career changed due to loss of jobs in my previous industry, and as a result ...there are a lot of holes and vacancies in what I use to call my personal board of directors...I love this idea of creating a family of like minded people, who too are looking to build a saftey net of people that will embrace you like family!

    Posted by Darcell, 28 September 2009.

  • Thank you for this article. It hits a cord with me. After years of toxicity, I finally broke away from my biological family. However, I was always blessed to have what I considered my real family - a very close supportive network of friends. The only difficult thing I still encounter is people that don't know me and their reaction. How do you recommend your patients respond when people start asking about your family?

    Posted by jojostanley, 5 September 2009.

  • What a magnificent idea! Okay, I am using my imagination on this one. I am gathering like-minded people who are at a place of gratitude, helping others to embrace with a loving stance. We will inspire each other, bringing in our own unique talent together. I am so excited to even write this.

    Wow, what I exciting Idea. Okay, I will get it better organized and keep you posted. I am now discovering my new “family” by pursuing the things I love.

    Thank you! I LOVE it!

    Georgia DiPirro
    "Friends are the family that I got to choose"

    Posted by GeorgiaDiPirro, 28 August 2009.