Growing up, I was always a little envious of people who had big families. We’re always being sold on the idea of family togetherness — from sit-coms to greeting card commercials. How many times have we seen images of huge families coming together to celebrate something like a birthday or just having a family barbeque in the summer?
Hearing and seeing friends talk about how they have “cousin nights,” where they all get together for trips or nights out on the town, makes me realize what I’ll never have. With a relatively small extended family, we never had those big family moments where everyone would come together. And now that I have a kid of my own, sometimes I feel sad that he’ll never have that kind of familial closeness either.
It’s not that we don’t have any extended family; it’s just that I don’t really have any extended family members who I am particularly close to, emotionally or geographically. Both of my parents have siblings, and I have a good amount of cousins, but almost all of them are at least 10 years older than me. So, I never had any cousins my own age to play with because they were going through puberty just as I was potty training.
I also have four half-siblings I didn’t grow up with who are also significantly older than me. Even though everyone is so much older than I am, we still had some sort of relationship — more than my son has with his extended family anyway.
Age plays a huge part in why my son won’t have a close relationship with his extended family as well. My son has eight cousins on my side of the family tree, but the age difference between my boy and his closest cousin is eight years. Sure, he’s spent time with them, but they all have other things happening in their lives.
I worry that when my son is older, he’ll be disappointed he didn’t have a better relationship with his extended family.
We are led to believe that the relationships we cultivate with our extended family are a treasure. And there’s no doubt that they are. But what about those of us who exist on the fringe of those relationships? The people who, for various reasons ranging from everything to estrangement to distance, don’t have any sort of relationship with their extended family, let alone one that has deep roots of love? We’re left standing on the sidelines lamenting the fact that our family isn’t like the family on the sitcom who gets together for Sunday dinners or flies to visit grandma for her birthday.
For my kiddo, distance is the biggest hurdle in having a close relationship with his extended family. All of my family is on the east coast. His dad’s family is spread out as well. While all four of his grandparents are still alive, none of them live anywhere near us. Thankfully we live in time where video chat exists so he can still feel connected to them, but because of money, it’s hard for us to see each other in person. I’d hate for him to get older and feel like he’s missed out on a close relationship with them. Plus, it would be nice if they were a more reasonable distance away. Then he could enjoy the same kind of things other kids enjoy with their grandparents — overnight visits, or trips to the zoo or out to dinner.
I think it’s impossible not to worry about the connections our children have to their extended family, because we want what’s best for them. It’s hard to explain the concept of family to a little kid who doesn’t have a tangible understanding of what it means. There are times when I wonder if it will get easier to cultivate those relationships for him when he’s a little bit older, but then I fear that it might be too late. I don’t want him to come to me as he gets older feeling like he’s been missing out on something big.
Because, in a way, he is missing out on something significant.