Which Nuclear Family Is Mine?

by Rachel Levy Lesser
Originally Published: 

Yet still, more times than I probably should admit, I still feel like the kid in my original nuclear family—the one that I was born into where I was the little sister and the daughter. I felt this tug back to my original crew recently. With my kids away at camp and my spouse away on a business trip, I had dinner with my father and brother. It was the three left of the original four, together in a rare moment that felt all too familiar. We recounted family vacations and adventures, my late mother’s failed attempts to make a tasty weeknight dinner and the amazing lifespan of our one and only family dog.

This was not the first time that I felt that familiar pull of my original family in the midst of starting a new one of my own. I remember calling my mother from the payphone in the hotel lobby on my honeymoon, discussing the details of the wedding with her all the while she was telling me to go and enjoy my special trip with my new hubby. I was loving the trip and our time together as newlyweds, but still, the ease of that phone call drew me back.

Several years later, on the night my son was born, I filled out hospital paperwork and under the “mother’s name” part of the form, wrote in my own mother’s name. The nurse corrected me with, “Dear, you are the mother here.” Ahh, I got it—sort of.

It was just a few months after that when I sat by my mother’s bedside as I could see that she was losing her long battle with cancer, and she told me to go home and be with my husband and son—my own family—and to take good care of them. She seemed to get that better than I did.

Perhaps my original family’s gentle pushing of me to go on and be the grown-up in my own, grown-up family only made me want to revert back more to my original one. I’ve heard that in other families, when the grown-up kids are guilted into original familial responsibilities, they run. My mother talked about giving us roots and wings. I had the roots but clearly needed some bigger wings.

I think those wings have gradually increased in span as time has marched on, and despite what Peter Pan long ago preached to me as I sat a captive audience member along with my original family in the theater, I have grown up. I may still instinctively call my father for advice on tire or insurance purchases, and I have been known to phone my aunt (my late mother’s sister) from a dressing room before buying a dress for whatever occasion, but I am finally and definitely most comfortable in my role as wife, mother and legitimate adult in my grown-up family. Took me long enough!

My husband, kids and I have our own family jokes now, our own travel adventure stories and our own favorite meals (still no family dog to speak of despite my daughter’s pleas). We are a complete and, I’d say, quite happy family unit—just the four of us. They are for sure my blessings that I count every day. Sounds corny, but it’s very true.

And on those occasions when the opportunity presents itself for me to spend time with members of my original family unit, I take them, too. I finally realized that it’s OK to embrace it all—the memories of the original unit and the everyday moments I get to spend with my own grown-up family. That’s kind of what being a grown-up is all about—that and those progressive bifocal lenses.

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