How to Friend Your Family

by Megan Montgomery

I am a twin. Naturally, I grew up obsessed with all things Olsen. Billboard Dad? You bet.Holiday in the Sun? Absolutely. I even got the Mary Kate and Ashley Barbie pair for Christmas one year and took much pride in being able to tell them apart. As if every other girl growing up in the ’90s was not already crazy about them, I felt an extra special connection because I, too, am a twin.

It should be noted that I am a fraternal twin. My sister, Hope, and I could not convincingly switch places and cause chaos with the confusion. We hardly shared clothes, refused to leave the house if we were even almost matching, and I cannot recall ever riding around a fabulous city with a pair of cute boys on matching scooters. (Also she hated Barbies, which is just another issue in itself.)

If we are being honest, the most desirable part of being a twin is not necessarily the matching outfits (although we definitely have the best coordinating baby pictures) as much as it is having a constant friend — someone who will always be there. Twin or not, the assurance of a longtime friendship, especially in our 20s, is something we can all agree is a luxury.

Maybe it is just me, but it took too long for me to realize that I had some really impressive candidates for friends literally at my doorstep. When I was a teenager, I did not understand the possibility that friends and family could be synonymous. The older I get, the more I would prefer to hang out with my parents than my high school friends and the more I value my older brother’s compliments than just about anything else on Earth.

The most rewarding thing I have ever done is stop believing in the idea that family is supposed to be a roll-your-eyes, grin-and-bear-it, love-them-anyway kind of relationship. I am very thankful to have family members that, for the most part, are easy to love. Even so, it seems incredibly ungrateful to think they don’t have choices — other people in their lives to value and to invest in. Just because they are stuck with me, does not mean they have to give me the privilege of being their friend.

I know now that life is too short for my family to think I only love them because I have to. I love them because individually, they encourage me to be better. My parents, outside of everything they have done for me, are some of the most impressive adults I have ever known. My brother and my sister are way cooler, funnier, and more accomplished than I will ever be. If I met any of them as a stranger in another life, I would put a lot of effort into getting to know them. It only seems right to give them the same attention and respect as I would if they were not actually “stuck” with me.

Just because you are not Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen, or even a twin, does not mean you can’t have meaningful, rewarding relationships with your family. Here are some things to consider if you are trying to friend your family:

Give Grace

At some point between baseball tournaments, prom pictures, and moving away for college we forget that our family members are just people. They are people that make mistakes, and just like any other friend in your life, they can hurt you and you can disagree. But it is unfair to hold them to a standard higher than we would any other human being. As kids we see our parents, or even a sibling, as a type of superhero (and in some instances, no amount of growing up will change that), but even Superman, Wonder Woman, and all their other super-children need forgiveness sometimes.

Get to Know Them

Back in the day when I watched Mary Kate and Ashley’s movies repeatedly, I picked up on their subtleties. I took note of their similarities and their differences. Learning about both of them, together and apart, helped me distinguish the two. The same can be said with me and my sister. We did not go to college together, and it was the first chance we had to make a life without necessarily being labeled a twin. I soon recognized things about Hope that I had not always seen. In the process, I also learned a few things about myself that I would not have noticed otherwise. When we were together every day, we got tired of being compared to each other. Because of that, I tried so hard to be different from her that I did not realize many of our similarities nor did I take time to appreciate Hope for the person she was — and not just as my twin.

Again, I think this also true for the rest of our family. We might sometimes be too close to the situation to see some of the big truths about these people. When I get to know someone, I take into account their life and experiences, and it is hard to do the same for my family considering I am a part of their story. We 20-somethings may not know a whole lot, but we definitely have the “let’s meet for coffee or drinks and talk about ourselves” routine down pat. My challenge for you (and myself) is to stay engaged with your family, hang out with them, and try and get to know them beyond just the role they play in your life. You never know, you might even learn something about yourself in return.

Make Time

When all else fails, get in the car, pick up your phone, or plan a date. FaceTime is truly a great thing, and face-time is even better. But what’s most important is that our “people,” especially our family, know how we feel about them. A lot of things change in our twenties, but my parents and my siblings will always be the same. I have learned that our priorities can be found where we spend our time and our money. So if you want to ensure someone that they are important to you, show them. Check your calendar, make a trip, or write a letter, but don’t forget to give your family — your lifelong friends — the attention and appreciation that they deserve.

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