By Angela D. Wagner

It has been said that family is the most important thing in life. Today, with globalization and the mobility of the human population, living near family often isn’t an option. Whether you move across the country after college or your spouse is offered a terrific promotion overseas that promises more money and a life of adventure, you may find yourself without family living nearby.

This physical distance can make life a bit rough at times, especially during the holidays, but me, my husband, and children have found a way to make life easier and more enjoyable. Our closest friends, the ones we spend our holidays with and those we know are nearby that we can rely on in a crunch, have become more than our friends. They have become framily, a new word for the American lexicon. These friends turned family have shown us the many benefits of creating our very own family of friends.

More Relaxed Holidays

The holidays with framily can be much more relaxed than those spent with biological family. People often dread visiting relatives because of the expense and headache of traveling long distances, the sense of obligation, or simply because of damaged relationships. A framily, on the other hand, are people you choose to spend time with that live nearby who also want to spend time with you.

Take Thanksgiving for instance. Instead of just celebrating Thanksgiving, our framily celebrates Friendsgiving where we have created our own traditions. Each year we go around the table before we eat and share what we are thankful for. At Friendsgiving, there is no pressure to visit with that grumpy uncle or braggart cousin. Instead, we play board games, relax and chat by the fire, and eat what we want while simply enjoying each other’s company.

Christmas, Easter, and other holidays aren’t as stressful either because we get to cherish the holiday with our framily that shares our common interests. One person doesn’t get stuck with all of the work because we can potluck our big meal. Gift-giving is more fun with a white elephant gift exchange where you never know if you’ll end up with a few winning scratcher tickets, a bottle of delicious wine, or a wooden statue of a nude couple in a loving embrace. It’s hilarious to watch some of the same gifts pop up again and again, year after year.

Travel Is More Fun and Affordable

Each year, we gather with some of our framily in the White Mountains of Arizona for a three-day weekend to celebrate Memorial Day. By pitching in together, several of us can afford to rent a big, beautiful cabin. All of the kids get to play with their “cousins” for the weekend. I enjoy playing the role of fun mom and auntie to the children as we go on our traditional “Bear Hunt” after reading the children’s book. It’s nice to get to stop the clock for that few days to spend quality time together, making fond memories that will last a lifetime. Everyone gets to eat what they want, stay up late playing games or watching movies, and simply have fun while relaxing.

We have done everything from karaoke and murder mystery dinners together (in full costume of course) at the cabin to reading quietly in our own rooms and enjoying some time fishing on the local pond. As a framily, we all pitch in for groceries, rotate cooking the meals, and clean up together making things go so much faster and easier.

Life Events That Count

Every year at the start of school near Grandparent’s Day, my children’s school holds an event for the students and they are allowed to invite their grandparents. My husband’s parents passed away years ago and my parents are not involved in our lives. I always worried that our children would feel cheated by not having grandparents of their own but our framily has filled the void.

A retired couple from Chicago who moved in two doors down more than seven years ago, Art and Yvonne have become the surrogate grandparents in our framily. They love the kids just as grandparents should. They attend the annual grandparent’s event with our children to eat dinner, play games, visit the book fair, and take wacky photos.

Over the years, Yvonne and Art have held an annual sleepover complete with tents in the back yard, a cupcake decorating contest, and kid-friendly movies for all of the children in the neighborhood. They have arranged group activities such as hiking where all of the children are welcome and ice cream follows every gathering. Art and Yvonne have been there when we needed a last minute sitter. When I need sage advice or just some good company, Yvonne lovingly offers up a glass of wine and soak in her hot tub.

Framily Offers Support

When my youngest was born and I had to return to my teaching job with nine weeks left to go in the school year, our neighbor and framily member Lisa (fondly known as Lili to me and my children) agreed to care for him. Every morning I would drop him off on my way to school. Each day, without fail, Lisa would bring my newborn to me at lunch so I could nurse him. She loved him and snuggled him just like a real aunt would and I never worried about his safety or care. That gave me a kind a peace as a mother I couldn’t get with just anyone, even with some members of my own biological family.

As my children have grown, I have come to understand the old African adage that it takes a village to raise a child. I had to go to work one day and my husband was watching the kids. As I drove away, my then four-year-old tried to chase my car down the street and around the corner without my knowledge. My daughter, who was six at the time, came running out of the house to grab him as my husband had stepped into the bathroom.

My daughter chased her little brother frantically down the street calling for him. Yvonne, who lives on the corner, heard the yelling outside and peeked out her window. She saw the panicked expression on my daughter’s face and stepped outside. A mother herself, she called out to my youngest in a firm, but loving voice. He came walking back, head hung. She hugged him and explained that he couldn’t run off like that before walking both of the kids safely back home.

A Shoulder to Cry On

I never had a sister of my own, but have found one just next door in Lisa. She is someone I can share my feelings with who never judges me and always seems to have some good advice to share. She has helped me find the positives in my life when I have been down. A strong woman and mother herself, she supports me in all that I do from playing rugby to raising my kids and running my own business. Like a good sister should be, she is always there when I need her.

They Often Treat You Better

Because your framily is comprised of the people you choose and those who choose you, there is often more respect involved. Just as you would nurture a plant to keep it growing, we tend to nurture the relationships that mean the most to us. While family may try to take advantage of you because you are obligated by blood ties, framily tends to avoid doing this. Everyone has to continuously treat each other with love and respect to keep the framily bond in place. All of the members of the framily understand that they must help to nurture the framily or risk it falling apart.

A Way to Give Back

Being part of a framily also gives you the opportunity to give back to those that give you so much throughout the year. When our framily members are in need of help with their children or pets, we have been able to help them, too. We have been able to be there during emergencies when they needed a ride to the hospital or someone to support them in a crisis. Whether they need a listening ear, someone to hold their hand at a funeral, or simply need a place to go for the holidays, we have been able to share our love with them, too.

As our children have grown, my husband and I have tried to instill in them that family is the most important thing in life but they also know that families come in many shapes, sizes, and colors. I think the lesson has taken hold. Just yesterday our youngest, who is now 8, said out of the blue, “Friends are family, too.” He couldn’t be more right.