All in the Family
Jay M. Greenfeld, Ph.D., C.Psych.,
I had the privilege and honour of celebrating my grandmotherís 99th birthday most recently. I am not sure how often that kind of celebration is able to happen in our current world, especially as a pandemic has swept through the globe. It was unfortunate that not all could attend because of travel limitations, but it was a unique experience to see so many generations of relatives all in one place. The experience led me to realize that we may not know what we had until it is gone, but more so, we often do not pay attention to what we have been missing until it arrives. After years of not seeing family members (young and old), due to COVID limitations, to have a 99th birthday event led me to realize how important it is that we devote time reconnecting with the people and things that are important to us.
As a society, we spend a considerable amount of time working, going to school and commuting between places, for ourselves and our children. We are often very tired from the routine of the day that the smaller interactions often get missed both with immediate and extended family members. Time moves very quickly in our world and it is easy to let too much of it pass. Consequently, we then forget, lessen, or simply lose connections with some of the people most important to us. Moreover, by losing these connections, we miss out on friendships and relationships that can help us better understand where we came from, who we connect with, and where we want to go in life. It is time for our children to start paying closer attention to the family they have within their inner circle. Of course, noting that the definition of family is far wider than it ever was. The typical family makeup that roared through the 1960s and 1970s now represents less than 20% of our current world. With so many diverse versions of what the family unit brings, we are lucky to have a wider spread makeup of who we consider family.
Between great grandparents, grandparents, parents, stepparents, siblings, stepsiblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, and even pets we are given a platform to connect and learn from so many different generations of people. However, having the opportunity to engage with family members beyond those living in your house has been few and far between. Now is that time to rekindle those connections. We could not control the arrival of the pandemic but we can control how we respond to the current capabilities we are able to engage in with others.
Knowing how limited time may be, start by exploring and explaining to your children who makes up your family tree and what role the members played and play in your life and theirs. Explain the important role that a grandparent, uncle, aunt, cousin or sibling has played in your life and how your children can learn from those individuals around them. Then try and coordinate a bigger family event so that these people become role players in the minds and hearts of your children. Whether it is nature or nurture, blood relatives or non-blood relatives, each family member has a connection to your children for one reason or another.
One key component I noticed most recently with my own cousins and their children was that my children had not gained a chance to get to know them, yet felt some type of instant connection, as if they were friends from a past life. If you can create additional interactions with extended family for your family, do it. The opportunity gives the more senior role players in the family the time and moments to appreciate all that has been created because of them. Moreover, the interactions present a good glimpse to see how it will be carried on for generations to come. If the connections between cousins can sustain itself, the strength of the family will progress.
The value of making these connections and putting forth the effort into strengthening them, can create sense of fulfillment that was absent often times without you even knowing. That does not necessarily mean you are going to like all in the family and you may not all get along consistently as so many personality types in one room can create quite the three-ring circus. However, regardless of the differences between family members, if you can instill in your children the same intention of connection, they will have the opportunity to learn from their elders, be inspired by their older cousins, and mentor their younger cousins. Finally, you may forget what family members have said over the years and you may forget what type of experiences you have engaged in with them. However, you will rarely forget how you felt when around those that put forth the effort to show you support, understanding, and connection.
For your own mental health and well-being, try and put forth the effort to fill in the gaps of time lost with family. Put forth the effort to reach out face-to-face. Most importantly though, if you choose to create more interactions, eliminate the use of screens. There is a lot of effort that goes into planning events to gather family members together, so if and when that happens, the screens can be put away. If the greatest gift you can give someone is your time, use it wisely with your family because people do not get younger as time passes. For yourselves, your children, and the continuity of the roots where your family began, ignite those connections.
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