We have lived in seven cities in the twelve years we have been married. These moves have taken us across the country and outside of it. We have been blessed to live next door to family and even in the same home as my parents for a short time. However, many of those moves have also landed us far from any relatives. There is much to be said for growing together as a couple and an immediate family, but we would be amiss to let our far-away relatives fall-away. Here’s why and what we do about it.
More Love For Me
My grandpa (and last grandparent) passed away this summer.
My five-year-old continually calls funerals reunions and reunions funerals. While I hope your reunions don’t feel like funerals, this funeral was definitely a reunion.
As we gathered for Grandpa’s viewing, I was suddenly surrounded by people connected to me through Grandpa and Grandma McDonald’s genealogy: aunts, uncles, cousins, in-laws, siblings, and on.
That room was an incredibly unique gathering of individuals with different occupations, ages, races, life experiences, life choices, and about any “category” you can name. Many of them I had not seen for years.
The overwhelming reality that hit me though, as we gathered in family prayer, was that I loved every single person in that room.
Even those little kids of cousins whose names I couldn’t quite keep straight, I felt connection and love with every one of them.
And I would even be as bold to assert that at least the majority of them feel the same way about me.
Can you imagine that?
A room literally crammed full of people, all who you love and who love you?
To me, that’s heaven.
Now, I will not claim that we are all angelic enough to actually have created heaven on earth. We all have issues, right?
But, I will unabashedly say that I have been the recipient of many happy extended family relationships. I have seen in my own life and in others the blessings extended family can bring.
Extended family expands a child’s inner circle.
As a child, parents and siblings are the center of your world. If trust and love do not extend far beyond that, the world can be a daunting place. Extended family provide a safe, stable, loving way to expand a child’s circle of trust and love.
Extended family can provide support for life events and milestones.
My grandma was in a wheelchair for all of my memory. For much of that time, they lived in a multiple-level home with the garage in the basement. When they went anywhere, Grandpa would carry Grandma down two flights of stairs to get her in the car. Anytime I saw Grandpa and Grandma on the sidelines at one of my sporting events, I knew it was a sacrifice they were willing to make and it brought me joy to see them there.
Extended families enjoy mutually beneficial relationships.
My parents find great joy in their grandchildren. They babysit willingly, enjoying the time spent with grandkids and providing us “big kids” with opportunities for travel, work, or other experiences that we probably would not have otherwise. Relatives can willingly serve one another in countless ways.
Extended family can serve as role models.
As a parent, I know I am lacking in many areas. I cannot be all things to all of my children. Additionally, sometimes kids don’t readily take their parents advice. So I am beyond grateful for examples and advice for my children from people they know love them like I do.
Extended family strengthens heritage.
Your unique family heritage helps your children understand where they come from and in many instances why they are the way they are. It also helps them understand some of the reasons you are the way you are. That mutual understanding is beneficial for everyone, especially as kids get older and start thinking more about your interactions with them. Getting to know grandparents, cousins, and family traditions helps develop that sense of heritage.
Extended family can succor in times of need.
Life happens. When the unexpected occurs, extended family can provide the necessary support. Whether that is a shoulder to cry on or financial assistance until you get back on your feet, families take care of each other.
But That’s Not Me!
What if everything I have described so far does not sound like your life? What if your in-laws are nightmares, your brother detests you, and you only have two cousins who both live overseas?
First, begin with #30 on the list below.
(Spoiler alert: It says, “Be forgiving.”)
You have 100% control over forgiving others, no matter what has happened in the past. You will feel much better going through life without grudges. Trust me.
Second, decide that extended family relations are important to you. Like, actually important to you, not just hypothetically. Think on the benefits listed above and the ideal possibilities.
Consider what you want your future relationship to be like with your children. Do you want them to see that when they grow-up and move out that’s the end? Or do you want them to see that family relationships are important to you no matter what age or stage of life you are in?
I am not going to be able to convince you in one post that extended family relationships are worth the work they take to build and maintain. However, I do hope to persuade you to honestly think about it.
Third, be patient and gentle with yourself as you tread new water.
Relationships are a two way street. So even if you have decided that those extended family members are important to you, they might not feel the same way yet.
Be realistic about how long change can take to implement. Be kind with yourself and them if things don’t go perfectly smoothly all at once.
Fourth, and finally, start where you are. Start with one family member. Start with one thing on the list below.
You may not have ideal relationships with everyone in your extended family all the time, but surely there is someone you can think of that you can draw into your child’s inner circle. Reach out to a parent, a cousin, or one sibling. Start where you are.
Traditions are not created and cemented over night. I’m grateful to the pioneers in my McDonald family, my grandparents and their children, who started the tradition of family reunions. One generation later we have felt the impact.
You can be the first in your family to set a new norm or create something a little more beautiful than how things stand at the moment.
These extended family relationships have the potential to make life heavenly. They are important for us and our children.
However, sometimes it can be a challenge to build and strengthen those relationships if we don’t live nearby one another.
I have seen on both sides of my family growing up, in other’s lives, and now in our expanding extended family, many ways to build those relationships, even when living far apart.
- Truthfully, sometimes time zones and busy lives are beasts. When it works though, calling just to chat is wonderful. Let Littles dial and be in on the conversations often. As they get older, support them in making those calls on their own.
- Email is so kind. You allow me to respond whenever and however I have time and ability to do so. Email is still personal and can be long and thoughtful or short and sweet.
- Video chat
- Starting with the obvious tech ones here. 😉 No more explaining, “They can’t see you sweetheart.” Technology is amazing. Our kids have even played hide and seek with cousins via video chat!
- Send packages
- Whether it’s the aunt doing the spoiling, the grandma sending for a birthday, or cousins thinking of what other cousins would enjoy, occasional packages, even for no reason, are so fun!!!!
- Make a puzzle
- Print an 8×10 extended family photo or cousin photo and glue it to cardboard. Cut it apart to create your own puzzle. Alternately, photo companies can make higher quality photo puzzles for you. With the holidays coming up, this is a fun gift idea.
- Make a memory game
- We had cousins make a Cousins Memory Game for us when we were young. Littles love memory, and having a personalized game is exciting and keeps those faces close.
- Prioritize travel to visit
- Bite the bullet, make the drive. You’ll never regret it. You’ll probably have some great stories to tell too. We always appreciate when people visit us too. We know it’s not easy, and we don’t take it for granted.
- Hang photos in your home
- Whether it’s through Christmas cards on the fridge or framed photos of grandparents, kids will remember people they see more often.
- Tell stories
- Telling family stories has a power to build relationships, even if we don’t often get to see the subjects of those stories. Tell stories about your grandparents, siblings, and cousins. I was blessed to live close to many of my cousins growing up. My kids now “know” those cousins from the stories I tell.
- Make a photo book
- Relive memories of times together again and again. My parents have given us photo books from reunions and trips together. Our Littles LOVE looking at those books and exclaiming, “Remember when…!” Alternately, you can print pictures and put them in page protectors. These books can have words with stories and memories or just pictures.
- Relish in opportunities to live close
- Once in a while, that chance comes. Take it. Yes, I have heard horror stories of living close to family. I have also seen cousins be best friends and aunts and uncles serve as “other parents.” I have seen grandparents able to attend sporting events and kids able to regularly serve those grandparents. The possibilities for good are endless.
- Plan an epic family reunion
- Remember those McDonald cousins I hadn’t seen for years before Grandpa’s funeral? Most of them I never had the opportunity to live close to. However, all of our parents made these epic reunions a priority. We flipped in the canoe, danced the world’s longest Bunny Hop Conga line, played card games, and built enormous sand castles: memory after memory is packed into that week-long reunion every other summer. Other trips and opportunities added to what we had, but the foundation of most of those relationships came from reunions. My Dance Family had equally successful reunions during the opposite summers.
- Send a card for no reason
- Sit your kids down and have them draw pictures for extended family. We have received such cards and not only is it a joy to receive snail mail, it is also fun to hang the drawings and think of cousins.
- Make a family tree
- When we lived on the island, we made a project of creating a huge family tree. We went back several generations and forward to all the kids’ cousins. They loved writing the names and hearing as many stories as we could tell as they glued the pieces in place.
- Watch family home videos
- Let your Littles relive times spent with extended family, as well as get to know their aunts and uncles as children. These are the best kinds of movies.
- Have a group family text
- I love getting regular updates, texts, photos, and random thoughts from family members. The group text makes it simple and easy to send and receive with all included. (I’d recommend GroupMe.)
- Call for birthdays
- We are really good at singing off key for your birthday with all the cha-cha-chas and channel 80’s. Think of loved ones and let them know it on special occasions.
- Make a family calendar
- If you have a hard time with #17, this one is for you. 😉 My sister-in-law has made family photo calendars for the last several years and we love them! Another great holiday gift idea.
- Participate in family history
- Help kids get excited about relatives living and passed. Record stories, find links, and upload photos. Familysearch.org is a great resource.
- Seek to know individuals
- Get to know your relatives as individuals. What are their personal interests and struggles? I always appreciated that my maternal grandparents were thinking of us individually. Often in their monthly family newsletter (another good idea) there would be a copied story or news clipping that made them think of me.
- Pray for each other, specifically and by name
- Little #3 is so good about remembering people in his prayers. He is usually reminding the rest of us. Of course, in many large families, you can’t pray for every family member everyday by name. However, you better believe that if you are related to me, every once in awhile, I pray for you in gratitude and blessing. I’ve said before that prayer is a matter of the heart. Praying for family member’s specific needs keeps them in our hearts.
- Speak kindly of your family members
- Be honest but always kind when talking to your Littles about family members. You don’t have to paint them all as perfect, but you don’t have to share all the details all the time either. 😉 Save the venting for your spouse.
- Cherish Grandparents
- Grandparents have a special role to play in our children’s lives. Let them fill that role and love them for it. Make it a priority for your kids to know your parents.
- Read books together
- I have a friend who calls and reads chapter books to her nieces and nephews. Another grandma I know reads picture books via video chat to her grandkids. Awesome ideas.
- Create traditions
- Maybe you call every Tuesday, maybe you drive every summer, maybe you send silly photos every first day of school. There are countless ways to make traditions that involve extended family. Kids remember traditions and look forward to them.
- Celebrate milestones
- When our daughter was baptized, we asked family members to send thoughts for her special day. We did the same for a niece on her graduation. These special occasions are a great time to focus on individuals in your extended family.
- Be open
- Your life is not perfect. Your relationships may not be perfect. Try the best you can to communicate your reality and your needs to those who would try to love you best.
- Connect on social media
- Another techy great. Social media can be a time hog, but it can also serve some wonderful purposes. Find your balance. Teach that balance to your children.
- Travel together
- Once in a while, we met up with cousins for vacations. One time we went to Mexico with my dad’s sister’s family. My uncle’s fluent Spanish came in handy, but more so, some great memories were made together.
- Be forgiving
- I will forget to call on your birthday. I probably will say or do something offensive or insensitive at some point. My baby may cry and keep you up all night when we do finally get together. Please forgive me. Let’s make the love in these relationships the most important thing to each of us.
More Love For You
Having relationships with relatives can strengthen our children in so many ways. They may have a friend when they need one. They can have a stronger heritage and feel a greater sense of where they come from and who they are. They might have a strong support system or good examples to follow. And hopefully, they will love and feel loved.
One of my very favorite reasons for blogging is the hope that something I say will help you or your Littles feel more love in your life.
“I believe everyone should give and feel love. The home is the ideal place to nurture that love.” (Do you use quotes when you’re quoting yourself? 🙂
Family has a unique ability to create lasting, loving relationships, even amidst differences and distances.
I’ve talked about the blessings for you and your children in building relationships with extended family. Remember though, that as you reach out to your family members and fortify those relationships, you extend the same blessings to them. That is a beautiful thing.
If something in this post urges you to reach out to a relative, gives you a new idea to strengthen existing relationships, or inspires you to share these ideas with someone else, then maybe you, your Littles, and others will feel a little more of that love.
I hope you too have those moments where you look around at extended family and feel, “This is heaven.”
How do you stay close to family far away? What blessings have come into your life from extended family? Share in the comments.