The extended family

Since Matt and I have lived in the Midwest we have only been a family with children for five years and only two of those years have been spent with family living in town with us. The rest of our years have been lived with the absence of either of our families in the same city or even state. Now that our children are getting older, missing their cousins and asking about their aunts and uncles by name, I have been pondering how unfortunate it is that they don’t see their extended family on a regular basis.

Most families these days do not have family in the same area where they reside. Kids leave the home and often go to college out of state, find jobs and fall in love, leaving it inevitable that they will be raising their own family in a different state than the one they grew up. Or people leave their small towns for a life in the city and decide to stay, never to return to ‘podunk’. Even if you live in a neighborhood with neighbors that you are getting to know you likely won’t live next to them for the rest of your life. You’ll move or they will. The sense of permanence seems like a lost child that is wandering the streets in confusion. These days we yearn for community and connectedness but feel our deepest needs aren’t met. I don’t believe it’s a selfish need. I see how we are made to form and keep relationships and that family is to be a part of our essence.

Many blame the vices of the Internet and it’s plethora of virtual communities on our current community crisis but I’m certain it’s deeper than that. I see how much these social networks have actually become a sort of life-line for those living away from family or close friends. I have a lot of friends that are ex-pats in different nations working to develop schools or justice projects and something like Facebook has actually giving them a connection back to their deeper friendships. Here time and intimacy has developed and continued through keeping up on emails, blogging, or sending the odd status update so that we know how their day is going (or they know how ours is going).

I’m sure these virtual communities or cyber communities could easily take the place of real connections between people in their ‘actual’ neighborhoods but I have personally felt sustained at times by dear friends that are far away yet feel oddly close to me. The real struggle I have is living in a city that I have only 10 years of history in and am still climbing uphill as I try to create community with those that I connect with on a friendship level. People are busy and don’t always have the time to commit to regular get togethers. Whether it’s through dinners, going out for drinks or just sitting over a smooth cup of joe I find the times with preferred friends to actually be few and far between in the busy lives of my friends. Then as people begin to have kids the busy factor ups by dozens of percentage points. There are classes to go to, things to be involved with and when the snow hits like it does in the Midwest the house doors shut and people crawl under their blankets not to return outside until the springtime.

This is where I’ve been missing the consistency of family in our lives. I realize all family dynamics consist of love and hate. You desire one another painfully but then when you are together all of the little quirks drive one another to the edge of insanity. “Why do we have to sit and watch ya’ll play the Wii boxing game again?” “No, No, I’ll just do the dishes again. Then I’ll huff and roll my eyes so you all feel awkward for not helping me”. Family is a life-force and a life sucker all in one. Beautifully crafted by a Great Designer to become a masterpiece through time and pressure but the pressure is breathtakingly painful and exhausting. Even still our culture seems to have traded family for freedom in a variety of ways. I speak personally as well. I don’t believe that everyone needs to live and die in the same hometown that they were raised in or the same place which their parents now reside. We are to leave our father and mother and cleave to someone else to create our own family, even if those families never have children; marriage is family! I also believe there is something very maturing about leaving a nest and becoming a man or woman outside of your parent’s wings of security. Some family situations are also so abusive and dysfunctional that to stay would be forfeiting one’s own inherent design for greatness and beauty.

I have realized that having Matt’s father in town has been a gift to us and our children. I am delighted that they know their grandfather and have access to his life on a regular basis. I’ve been a bit down lately that they don’t see their aunts, uncles and nieces more mainly because having other adult family members in the lives of our children gives them a perspective outside of our own home and a potential exposure to new ideas, passions, teachable moments and more people to love them. I’m sure that a part of my interest in creating family comes out of my own loss growing up, not having a jointed and healthy family that stayed together and grew old with one another. As I remember being a teenager and later a woman in my 20’s I felt sad and out of place when I spent time with larger families where the parents were still married to one another and the kids respected their mother and father. I always wanted that too. I am extremely grateful for my new family and the love that is concrete and authentic in the Bonjours. I’m mainly realizing how vital it is for children growing up to first experience this type of commitment and security in their own home but then out into the homes of aunts, uncles and grandparents. It’s forming a bigger party, so to speak.

This is becoming more common in the day we live (I hate saying things like ‘in this day and age’ but nothing else seems fitting-sorry) to see smaller families living alone in a city without the proximity of the parents or brothers and sisters that they grew up with, raising children in new communities with new friends and neighbors who likely won’t be sticking around over the next 50 or so years. You’re lucky if they will be there for the next 10 years. Jobs change, people get bored and move on or they simply want to reinvent their lives. Even as Matt and I get ready to move after 10 years of living in the Midwest (case in point) we want to plant deep roots near or nearer to our families and raise our children with a value on the importance of family in our lives as we grow old together.

Here’s to family; to the extended and all of the joy and sorrow that comes with it. Merry Christmas!

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2 thoughts on “The extended family

  1. Nice thoughts here. I feel a lot of what you are touching on. It’s great for us to be near family for a change, and it gives a sense of place. I’m glad you guys are pursuing family and community and hope your upcoming transitions go smoothly!.

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