We’ve all seen TV shows where a family unit is breaking down, each person going their own way. It is often presented in a comical way, as if it is something we are all supposed to understand and accept as a way of life. Life is lived on separate islands, and from time to time a parent – typically the mother – will pull everyone back together for a meaningful family moment. Then they go back to doing their own thing. Sorry if this is normal to you, but I just can’t relate. It’s not funny to me – it’s a scary kind of dysfunction.
I grew up around lots of extended family. Holidays typically included a trip to any one of my relatives’ houses a short five minute drive from our farm. There we would converge with grandparents, 8-10 aunts and uncles, and enough kids to outnumber the adults. If the weather was cooperative, most us kids would end up in the yard or driveway, or even the neighbor’s driveway. The occasion: Easter, 4th of July, Christmas, birthdays, and pretty much any other excuse we could think of to get together. You couldn’t find many cool toys to play with at Grandpa’s house, but all our favorite people were there.
As we got older and had kids of our own, we always managed to stay connected. Something deep down inside drew us back to each other again and again. To this day, we try to meet up whenever we’re in town, whether it be a trip to the park, a pizza party, a movie, or just hanging out. The younger generation of kids loves playing together, although they are a bit confused as to why our cousins are more like aunts and uncles, and don’t even try to explain the concept of a “second cousin”! To keep things simple, we just decided to call everyone our “cousin”.
I’ve spent quite a bit of time looking back, trying to figure out how this happened. What created this drive to be part of this connected family? How does an extended family grow into such a tight-knit community? Is it possible to recreate this?
From what we can tell, it started by building expectations in kids. My parents always expected us to play together, to get along, and contribute to the health and function of the family. If one person had an accomplishment, ball game, a hurt or issue, everything stopped and we lived it together. A strong, healthy family was everyone’s responsibility and required everyone’s participation.
Although we did hang out in our rooms, the majority of our time was spent together as a family. Sure, there were family trips and planned activities, but I most remember board games, reading, Sunday naps and even some homework. I would sit on the arm of my dad’s recliner playing my Game Boy while he was fast asleep. We were taught that it was normal to want to be around each other. Some times we would play together, but often we would just all be doing our own thing in the same room.
It is a very rare event to see Addison or Adrienne in their room, doing their own thing. On the contrary, they are usually the ones asking what we’re going to do together as a family after dinner. They know that family is treasure, and we all work together to protect and maintain it. And they understand that being elsewhere means they will miss a fun family moment.
If I could offer a single piece of advice to other families and parents, it would be to always do things together. Activities together are great, but so is having everyone in one place at one time. Over the years you will grow together, and you’ll discover life and joy just by being together. Close-knit families don’t just happen, it is something you have to work for and invest in.
If you find yourself consistently wanting to go solo to escape your family, your entire family is going to respond to your cue and scatter. When you step out of that room, you are guaranteed to miss a great opportunity to experience the life of the family. Putting yourself in the middle of things with a heart to connect may be difficult at first, but you will always reap long-term rewards. Find a way to stay together, and you’ll be together forever.