Symbolic Families

The bonds formed within and outside of blood families determine one’s idea of “family”.


Oftentimes people find themselves torn between their symbolic families and their blood relatives.

Human beings are social creatures. From the beginning of human existence communal relationships have been a consistent aspect of the human experience. The relationships formed among early humans revolved mostly around blood relation and proximity, but as humanity has advanced, so has the foundation of human relationships.

The concept of family was traditionally reserved for blood relatives; one’s “family” was comprised of people that shared their DNA. Historically, people were permitted to form intimate bonds only with those they shared blood. These bonds, formed on the basis of blood, have been regarded as the most important for a large portion of human history.

Although the importance of family is still obvious in society, the idea of what constitutes a family has changed drastically in recent years. Today, the term “family” is used to encompass countless types of bonds. People are able to find “families” through their communities, academic lives, teams, etc. 

Although for many people, their closest and most prized “families” are those they find outside of their blood relatives. 

I’m a lot closer to my friends than I am to my family.”

“I’m a lot closer to my friends than I am to my family.” senior Rachel Konczak said.

Friendships give one the ability to choose who to associate with. People develop friendships for many reasons at varying levels of intimacy; many people consider their friends to be their family. Friendships have the potential to distance one from their blood relatives. Choosing one’s friends often means electing to be around people with similar preferences that brings one happiness. These characteristics of a friend are not necessarily true of blood relatives. For this reason, many people find themselves preferring the company of their friends over that of their blood family. 

“My family basically hates me,” Konczak said. “I spend the majority of my time with my friends and my parents are always mad about it.” 

In situations like Konczak’s, where one’s family actively disapproves of their friendships, there is high potential for familial disconnect. 

Many people find that they are closest to the people they spend the most time with. Relationships are formed and stimulated by proximity; the more time one spends around others, the greater level of understanding they gain. Teenagers spend a third of their days attending classes in high school and many have obligations after school that keep them away from their families even longer. 

“I have a lot of other commitments that take up most of my time,” junior Kylee Craig said. “I don’t get to see my family as much as I see my friends or teammates.”

The busyness of one’s schedule has an impact on their familial lives. Jobs, sports, clubs, or any other of the countless extracurriculars people face in their everyday lives oftentimes creates distance in their relationships outside of these obligations. 

“I’m still really close to my mom, even though I don’t see her as much as I should.” Craig said.

Although spatial and scheduling factors contribute to the disconnect between blood families, many people remain close to those they prioritize.

I don’t think my other ‘families’ take away from my relationship with my [blood] family”

— Kylee Craig

“I don’t think my other ‘families’ take away from my relationship with my [blood] family,” Craig said. “If anything, they give me more to talk to my mom about.”

The experiences one has that are separate to the experiences of their loved ones can create anecdotes and opinions that can in turn be used to develop their relationships with their loved ones.

Many people may seek relationships outside of their families in order to supplement aspects of their love languages missing from their familial bonds: affection, support, dedication. Familial bonds are often the first formed during one’s formative years, but these bonds don’t always fulfill the ever changing needs of diverse people. Many people find their ideal families within symbolic communities based around a shared struggle. 

For senior Mirandi McCormick and others, the LGBT+ community provides a foundation for relationships based around similar identities. These relationships are unique in their emphasis on support and mutual understanding within the niche of gender and sexual preference. 

“Being surrounded by people who understand you is so comforting,” McCormick said. “I can just talk about [my feelings] without having to be embarrassed or explain anything.” 

Blood relation does not ensure understanding between people. For this reason, many people find the most appreciation from those outside of their relatives. People who prioritize understanding in love find it easier to bond with others who have experienced similar struggles.

These types of communal families have the potential to detract or enhance familial bonds. For those who find their first support within the community, it is often a reason to be distant to everyone outside of the community; the type of bonds formed between those who share common struggles can make other bonds seem less sincere. 

“I appreciate my friends and [blood] family for supporting me,” McCormik said. “But they don’t really understand so it can be hard to be completely myself around them.”

The LGBT+ community provides a familial experience that is different than that of a blood family.  For some, this experience is supplementary to their ideal of family; the bonds formed from the LGBT+ community fulfill an emotional niche that blood families may not be able to. This complimentary relationship between families and communities can help people maintain close bonds to their blood relatives. 

Whether a symbolic family is detracting or enhancing the bonds of blood families, they have an impact on one’s idea of “family”.