Most people have been raised with the idea that family always comes first, but why does making that choice feel so difficult at times? Is choosing friends over family ever acceptable?
It all boils down to the type of relationships you share.
First off, you’re not picking between family or friends. You’re picking between unique relationships, so get those groups out of your mind and compare things case by case.
People tend to favor family because they know they’ll be there at our worst, but that’s mostly because that process was done before we even had a say in it. Friends could be just as loyal. Some family members could easily leave you behind. Focus on the relationships you have, and think about who needs you more right now.
On a general principle, it’s safer to favor family over friends. Most of your family will be here to stay, while maybe only some of your friends would stick around when times get tough.
That’s a nominal guideline though, not a rule, and there will inevitably be some exceptions. Don’t defer your judgment and default to family – always think your current situation through!
Is Choosing Friends Over Family Ever Acceptable?
Get that Hierarchy Out of your Mind!
Friends are there by choice, but not always – maybe you were stuck on a playdate with your mom or dad’s officemate once! Family will remain even when the fondness goes away, but some relatives might cut ties – and inversely, some friends will choose to stick around for years.
Some friendships can last a lifetime, just as family does.
Culture plays a huge part in this. Some conservative areas favor blood even to the point of isolation. Other liberal areas have people who prefer making new friendships over maintaining family ties. Neither perspective is problematic – provided that they’re taken as guidelines, not rulesets. Relationships are defined by connection. Where that connection began is secondary.
Why are we Often Biased Towards Family?
Even some of the more liberal areas view family as more significant than friends. This is the case due to multiple different reasons.
You know where you stand with your family. They’ve seen you in diapers, cramming for exams, or bawling your eyes out over a breakup. They’ve seen you in the times you didn’t want to be seen and kept you around in their life despite that.
Friends might do the same. They may be there for you even when the world is against you. They may accept you even in cases your family would not. They can be cherished pillars of support.
The keywords here are “can”, “may”, and “might”. Relationships are built on trust, love, and connection. We’re often predisposed towards our family because they got a head start on that.
You can see this with extended family – especially relatives you meet later in life. You approached them cautiously at first, worried about upsetting them. How you make friends is no different.
A relatable middle ground for a lot of people would be their cousins. They’re just close enough to be immediate family, but not to the point of that blood tie dominating your personal dynamic!
Why are Some Biased Towards Friends?
The key here is, again, acceptance. Family always gets the first opportunity to accept someone, but that doesn’t mean that they always provide the type of assurance the person needs.
It could come because that person failed to meet their expectations. It could be that they’re accepted in the family, but only on a conditional basis.
The lack of support and acceptance is bound to cause frustration and feelings of ostracization. A person deprived of that comfort will turn to the reassurances they can find – and this will often be provided by people outside of their own family.
Family is a double-edged sword. You’re guaranteed the company of people, but not necessarily their acceptance. They might tolerate you at best, or be openly demeaning at worst. And you can’t do away with that connection without being judged for it by the rest of your family.
In summary, you can’t choose family – but it isn’t always for the better.
Friends are different. You have to make them and earn that connection. You can do away with them whenever you please – you simply choose not to, because you enjoy their company.
Family looks out for your needs, but friends will make you feel happy and comfortable with yourself. Sometimes you need the former more, and sometimes the latter would help you best.
Dealing with Unhealthy Family Ties
Unfortunately, not every family maintains a healthy dynamic. Dealing with these difficulties while preserving one’s mental health can become a very sensitive balancing act.
A family may not be outright physically abusive, but they can be cruel, demeaning, or judgmental. This treatment will erode just about anyone given time, and it would be unrealistic to suggest that someone in that situation ought to up and leave it right then and there.
Family starts feeling like an obligation, rather than a bond. Your family is there with you, but they may not necessarily be there for you.
Try your best to avoid taking their words personally – they don’t mean to be cruel. They’re trying to look out for you in their own warped, ineffectual way.
You don’t have to accept their mistakes, but understanding why they act the way they do could help you come to terms with their actions. You can trust that your family doesn’t want to hurt you. It’s just unfortunate how they aren’t able to help in ways that would reach you.
In these cases, your strongest support systems will likely come from your friends.
As we mentioned, you’re choosing between relationships, not categories.
If your family doesn’t need you as much as your friend does right now, don’t be afraid to prioritize the person who needs you most.
Even if you picked family, you wouldn’t really be “choosing” family so much as choosing to honor these perceived obligations over your friendship. In these instances, choosing your friends over family is perfectly acceptable.
Most adolescents appear to choose friends over family, even if it’s to their own detriment. They stop bothering with maintaining family ties, instead focusing their efforts on cultivating new friendships – the majority of which likely won’t last past the week!
For the parents reading here, remember that all adolescents – even you – appeared to do just this. It was like introducing a whole new world here, so of course that change won’t look gradual!
The behavioral shift seems big and maybe you might feel a little hurt, but they aren’t necessarily sidelining their family in their excitement. Maybe it seems that way because you aren’t used to seeing them like that.
Also, consider your teen’s perspective in this situation. They know what your family has been through – what they’ve endured together – and trust that they’ll be capable of persevering even without their help. What they know of their friends is a lot more fragile in comparison.
They might prioritize helping their friends through difficulties over their family – not because they don’t care about them, but because they trust their family to handle problems way better than their friends would.
Choosing friends over family for the situation is an exercise in personal agency. It doesn’t mean that your teen is getting selfish or considerate. They certainly aren’t ignoring their family here.
Maybe they just trust their family’s strength more than they trust in their friend’s resilience.
Who Needs You More Right Now?
Remember that you aren’t choosing between categories or even people here, but between priorities. Your friend might have lost his job today, while your family has a reunion scheduled on the same night. Would you attend that celebration, knowing your friend needed you?
Don’t be ashamed to choose friends over family – or, for that matter, to choose family over friends. The relationship’s importance always takes precedence over blood ties or peer pressure.
Choosing between family or friends should never be decided by feelings of obligation. You don’t inherently owe either group – but you do owe it to yourself to make that choice properly!
If you don’t make this choice out of your own free will, you’ll likely end up with plenty of personal doubts no matter the answer.
Picking between loved ones is always difficult, but choosing friends over family is acceptable at times. Stop thinking about it like they’re two wholly different things! The only distinction is blood ties, but both friends and family can connect with you in equally precious ways!
Make sure that you decide it for yourself – don’t defer to culture or any sense of obligation. Doing it that way might seem easier now, but any regrets from mishandling this will linger for a long while. Think of the people involved, not which groups they belong to!