Do you know the names of your second cousins? Have you ever met your great uncle?
For many of us, straying from the confines of our nuclear families (think Mom, Dad and siblings) gets confusing. If we’re lucky, we’re on good terms with our cousins, grandparents and aunts and uncles. But beyond that, extended family relationships and the names used to describe them seem as complex as the human genome and outdated as a hansom cab.
It’s easy to see why this has happened. Family units have grown increasingly smaller. Nowadays, family trees are more likely to consist of long, bare stalks than multiple branches. And an only child growing up in a single-parent household has few opportunities to interact with extended kin.
Family units often live far apart. The ease of travel and the necessities of earning a living may force folks to relocate to distant ZIP codes. Get-togethers become less frequent; loved ones quickly grow apart.
Some people are thrilled to be separated from their families. Sentiments such as “My parents drive me crazy” or “I haven’t talked to my brother in years” are a sign of emotional disconnection or an inability to get along.
Finally, changing lifestyles and social mores mean we’re more familiar with the terms ex-husband, live-in girlfriend or stepchild than we are with first cousin once removed.
Still, extended family plays an important role in our lives. It can be psychologically grounding. We realize we’re part of a larger group that has existed for hundreds of years before our time. Family members provide a safety net and can offer a hand should the need arise. Extended family teaches us to get along with others. It also preserves history and memories for future generations.
Even when an extended family has been problematic, it offers valuable lessons. Our kinfolk will always be a part of us, no matter how badly they behaved. Making peace with their memories and actions enables us to make peace with ourselves.
STAYING IN CONTACT WITH EXTENDED FAMILY
Make visiting a priority. Stop by whenever you’re in the neighborhood for business or pleasure. Better yet, plan a trip just to see family.
Send Christmas cards. They may be waning in popularity, but photo cards are an awesome way to keep track of a family’s progress. Include a brief synopsis of your year for a one-two punch.
Take advantage of technology. Facebook, Twitter, email and Skype are quick and easy ways to keep connected.
Be a good listener. Don’t dominate the airwaves with your own personal drama. Listen to what others have to say, too.
Don’t forget the value of letters. It gives the recipient something to hold on to. Older family members will especially appreciate getting something in the mail.
Arrange a reunion. Don’t wait for funerals and weddings. Plan a convenient time when you can all play, have fun and create memories.