Are Extended Family Relationships of Value in Today's Society?
Relationships in the Extended Family
For the purposes of this article, an extended family may be defined as a mini-society of individuals consisting of grandparents, parents, children, grandchildren, and possibly great-grandchildren; while there may be even more generations represented, it is rare. It is not necessary for these individuals to live together in a single housing unit, or even in the same geographical area, but merely that they originate in the same family unit started by the grandparents or great-grandparents.
There are a variety of relationships between the individuals and the separate nuclear families, but in today's world, these relationships seem to be fading. Geography plays a large part as siblings move apart from each other and from the grandparents of their children and distance makes a close relationship much more difficult. Interests of different families inevitably change and take different directions and old family traditions often die off as new members join the extended family in the form of spouses, often bringing their own ideas of family traditions into play. The question to be addressed is "Are these fading relationships between the various members of the extended family important, or should they be, in our changing world?"
Maintaining a Relationship Isn't Easy
Maintaining an extended family relationship isn't easy—whether over long distances or from next door. It takes work on the part of all the parties involved, just like any other good relationship. Siblings often have to overcome a good deal of sibling rivalry from the childhood and sometimes disappointment in or dislike of their parents. Child rearing concepts are often a point of contention as siblings differ in their own methods and with the methods their parents used. As people grow their interests and desires change; a country boy that wants nothing more than to camp in the peace and quiet of the forest may have to find a common point of interest with a city girl that won't consider setting one elegant high heeled shoe into a woodlands meadow - she isn't interested in anything outside of the hustle and bustle of the city.
Grandparents must realize that their now grown children are not children but adults in their own right, with their own responsibilities and concerns. New family members, both in the form of spouses and grandchildren must be welcomed into the extended family, not merely tolerated or accepted. Old family traditions that grandparents may have inherited from their own grandparents may well disappear into history as their children want to make their own traditions. Child rearing techniques again come into play as grandparents may know, deep in their hearts, that their grandchildren are not being raised properly but nevertheless must conform to and work with the concepts that their children are using.
Religion can be a massive bone of contention as different beliefs and systems come into play. An atheist may well find that her sibling has become an evangelist and the catholic grandparents may find their grandchildren being raised as Buddhists. Different beliefs must be accepted in everyone and everyone must absolutely accept that it is OK for their sibling or parent or child to be of a different faith. The road to good family relationships does not include the path of denigrating the faith of other family members, nor does it allow for the constant preaching of your own belief system.
It is not the family member with the sharp tongue demanding that everyone conform to his wants and desires that will have the best family relationship; rather it is the member that makes a conscious effort to be laid back and accept that people are different while refusing to sweat the small stuff that will have a far more successful family society. It is necessary to "go with the crowd" most of the time instead of requiring that the crowd go with you. Remember, it doesn't matter that you don't get your way—what matters is the time with, and the quality of, your extended family society.
OK, So What Are the Benefits?
So the costs of a good extended family society can be both high and difficult, but what about the benefits? What might the benefits be, and of what value?
"No man is an island." This comment, attributed to English writer John Donne is certainly true. Everyone needs, or will need sometime, friendship. The friendship of a close family society can be enormous - it can have elements that no other friendship can and is worth nearly any effort necessary to gain it. Sometimes all it takes is a few words of encouragement or consolation to make the world right again, and who better than a lifelong friend to provide those words? Someone who actually knows you and cares for you can be far more help in troubling times than a casual acquaintance or even a close friend.
The love of a grandparent for a grandchild can be a wonderful boon to both, and the love of a parent for a child, even an grown adult child, never goes away. Sibling love can be enormous; one must only watch a little girl as her smaller brother gets into a fight to see that; she is likely to become mama tiger defending her young. Don't let this familial love wither or slip away from you - it can have be a truly awesome power in your life.
Financial help is often available between members of an extended family society. This might range from a place to stay to a few dollars to pay the rent, and most people will need, at sometime in their lives, some help financially. A note of caution might be to not abuse this perk of your family; you could lose it all by trying to go too far whether on the giving or receiving end.
An extended family society is an excellent way to combat loneliness. Even people with their own nuclear family can be lonely at times and can simply need a visit or chat with someone else and a parent or sibling can make a great partner for a simple phone call, chat or perhaps a quick lunch together.
Younger members of a family society can benefit from having close cousins to play with while older children can find a like mind, perhaps, to help with teenage stress. Children that are in close contact with each other will often develop a "best friends" camaraderie that can last a lifetime.
The varied skills, abilities and knowledge base of a large family society can be of great help. No one person can know it all or have nearly all the skills and abilities of the society as a whole. Help is usually available from the family society when needed in an emergency or even pre-planned projects and activities.
My own family lives in the northwest US and when I moved to the east coast I did not realize just how much I missed the benefits of the family society I gave up. I had my own family there, and it was only when I moved back to the northwest that I realized what I had given up. I will not repeat that mistake and strongly encourage you, the reader, to place a high value on good extended family relationships; they can be a jewel beyond compare and are worth a very high price indeed.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
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© 2010 Dan Harmon