Tuesday, May 8, 2012

A new foray into family

Welcome to the May 2012 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Parenting With or Without Extended Family

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have shared how relatives help or hinder their parenting. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

I attended my Mummu's funeral when I was fourteen. My Mummu, my mother's mother, had died of a swift and unexpected struggle with ovarian cancer in her early seventies.

I was given a passage of Scripture to read at the service. I worked hard beforehand at memorizing it and interpreting it with inflection. On the day of the funeral, I was so proud when I went up to the front, spoke clearly into the microphone, and pulled off the reading with a worthiness I felt was sure to earn some praise after the service.

I sat down, and one of my cousins was up next, to read another passage. He broke down sobbing in the middle of his text and had to be consoled so that he could finish — in a broken voice, through his tears.

After he sat down, I realized: That's how my Scripture reading was supposed to have gone. That's how I was supposed to react to my grandmother's death.

But she had been all but a stranger to me. And her death was something abstract that wouldn't much affect my life.

I grew up as an Army kid. The longest I lived in any one place was four years; the shortest was six weeks (that was just after I was born). The closest we ever lived to extended family was four years living four and a half hours away from my paternal grandparents. We saw them three times a year then: summer, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Otherwise, I saw either set of grandparents usually once every year or so, and cousins every few years.

When I was sixteen, my dad retired from the military, and we settled into my maternal grandparents' former house (my grandfather had remarried after my Mummu's death and moved in with my step-grandma). For the first time in my life, I lived near grandparents, great-aunts, an uncle, an aunt, and a passel of cousins, both closely and distantly related. I remember thinking how weird it was that we hugged and kissed every time we saw them. I had thought that was something we did only when seeing each other after a long separation. It felt almost excessive to act so affectionate.

I had only two years near extended family before I graduated from high school and left the area again for college, then marriage, then a move across the country. I have still never gotten used to the idea of having extended family in my life on a regular basis, and it makes me wonder what I'm missing out on, and how it will affect my own parenting.

I also wonder now what it was like for my parents to live far from their own. They both grew up in neighborhoods near their own extended families, and most of their siblings stayed close by in adulthood. But having seen my parents' choice of living off on their own, I grew up expecting that's how it would be for me, too. Sure enough — I went a thousand miles away for college, and then another two thousand to live, for good measure. It's not that I don't like my parents, and I often envy people who have nearby relatives to help out and become close to their kids. I love seeing my kids interact with my parents, siblings, and niece. I like most of my extended family members, too; I just don't know them all that well.

On Sam's side, he also happened to grow up far from family, due to his father's work. His parents had grown up near their families as well, but they took a different tack and have since settled in the middle of the country, far from their families of origin.

When we married, Sam and I assumed we'd continue the wandering ways we'd learned in childhood. We didn't anticipate loving Seattle so much we'd want to settle down, but that's what we've done — two thousand miles from his family and three thousand from mine. Our parents are a mix of befuddled and resigned. They know they brought us up to this. There are many times I worry, Are we living on the wrong side of the country? Do my children deserve a closer relationship to their grandparents than I had? How much will I regret these missed years down the road? What level of fondness will our children have for our parents?

It makes me envision the future with my own children. Will they stay near, based on our modeling of staying put and letting down anchor? Or will they imbibe our example of living far from grandparents and hightail it? I would never force my children to stay nearby, but I have to admit to a hope that they'll want to keep living in this area, letting me grandparent (if it comes to that) on a regular basis instead of once or twice a year.

But the funny and somewhat sad thing is, I already feel some discomfort with the idea of being so close to my children. Mikko, multiple times a day, tells me he loves me, assures me I love my boys, and settles in for a hug or kiss. Alrik, naturally, would rather be with me than with anyone else. I have the nummies, after all.

There's this part of me that feels a whisper of doubt about whether this is healthy. Aren't children supposed to detach from their parents? Aren't they supposed to want to leave? That's what I've been taught, experientially, for two generations now.

I know it's foolish; I know it's a lie. I know it's absolutely normal and lovely that — my goodness! — my kids like me and want to spend time with me. I just feel myself fighting the urge to pull away and make them grow up, grow apart.

In the past, when I witnessed an extended family that got together for any excuse — a cousin's birthday, an uncle's retirement — and had a huge party, when the family ethos was that everyone was expected to attend any gathering — I scoffed. I thought it seemed extravagant, and stifling, and old-fashioned. I've since seen it in a different light, but I know where I got those thoughts from: my own parents. In their example of not prioritizing travel for family weddings and even funerals, and in their assignment of condemnation against families who dared to be so glaringly close-knit.

I worry that I'll somehow not be able to overcome these inheritances of independence and isolation, that I won't be able to forge with Sam a new identity as a family. Will we be able to craft new traditions and new attachment, without that example embedded in our DNA? Can I parent without pushing away? Can I attachment parent growing and grown children without an example to follow?

I hope. I'll try.

How has your upbringing affected your expectations of closeness to extended family?

Some other posts of mine about extended family:

Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

  • Dealing With Unsupportive Grandparents — In a guest post at Natural Parents Network, The Pistachio Project tells what to do when your child's grandparents are less than thrilled about your parenting choices.
  • Parenting With Extended Family — Jenny at I'm a full-time mummy shares the pros and cons of parenting with extended family...
  • Parental Support for an AP Mama — Meegs at A New Day talks about the invaluable support of her parents in her journey to be an AP mama.
  • Priceless GrandparentsThat Mama Gretchen reflects on her relationship with her priceless Grammy while sharing ways to help children preserve memories of their own special grandparents.
  • Routines Are Meant To Be Broken — Olga at Around The Birthing Ball urges us to see Extended Family as a crucial and necessary link between what children are used to at home and the world at large.
  • It Helps To Have A Village – Even A Small One — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama discusses how she has flourished as a mother due to the support of her parents.
  • The Orange Week — Erika at Cinco de Mommy lets go of some rules when her family finally visits extended family in San Diego.
  • One Size Doesn't Fit All — Kellie at Our Mindful Life realizes that when it comes to family, some like it bigger and some like it smaller.
  • It Takes a Family — Alicia at What's Next can't imagine raising a child without the help of her family.
  • A new foray into family — As someone who never experienced close extended family, Lauren at Hobo Mama wrestles with how to raise her kids — and herself — to restart that type of community.
  • My Mama Rocks! — Kat at Loving {Almost} Every Moment is one lucky Mama to have the support and presence of her own awesome Mama.
  • Embracing Our Extended Family — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now shares 7 ideas for nurturing relationships with extended family members.
  • Doing Things Differently — Valerie at Momma in Progress shares how parenting her children far away from extended family improved her confidence in her choices.
  • Snapshots of love — Caroline at stoneageparent describes the joys of sharing her young son's life with her own parents.
  • Parenting with Relies – A mixed bagUrsula Ciller shares some of her viewpoints on the pros and cons of parenting with relatives and extended family.
  • Tante and Uncles — How a great adult sibling relationship begets a great relationship with aunt and uncles from Jennifer at True Confessions of a Real Mommy.
  • Tips for Traveling With Twins — Megan at the Boho Mama shares some tips for traveling with infant twins (or two or more babies!).
  • Parenting passed through the generations — Shannon at Pineapples & Artichokes talks about the incredible parenting resource that is her found family, and how she hopes to continue the trend.
  • My Family and My Kids — Jorje of Momma Jorje ponders whether she distrusts her family or if she is simply a control freak.
  • Parenting with a Hero — Rachel at Lautaret Bohemiet reminisces about the relationship she shared with her younger brother, and how he now shares that closeness in a relationship with her son.
  • Text/ended Family — Kenna of A Million Tiny Things wishes her family was around for the Easter egg hunt... until she remembers what it's actually like having her family around.
  • Two Kinds of Families — Adrienne at Mommying My Way writes about how her extended family is just as valuable to her mommying as her church family.
  • My 'high-needs' child and 'strangers' — With a 'high-needs' daughter, aNonyMous at Radical Ramblings has had to manage without the help of family or friends, adapting to her daughter's extreme shyness and allowing her to socialise on her own terms.
  • Our Summer Tribe — Justine at The Lone Home Ranger shares a love of her family's summer reunion, her secret to getting the wisdom of the "village" even as she lives 1,000 miles away.
  • My Life Boat {Well, One of Them} — What good is a life boat if you don't get it? Grandparents are a life boat MomeeeZen loves!
  • Dear Children — In an open letter to her children, Laura at Pug in the Kitchen promises to support them as needed in her early days of parenting.
  • Yearning for Tribal Times — Ever had one of those days where everything seems to keep going wrong? Amy at Anktangle recounts one such day and how it inspired her to think about what life must've been like when we lived together in large family units.
  • I don't have a village — Jessica Claire at Crunchy-Chewy Mama wishes she had family nearby but appreciates their support and respect.
  • Trouble With MILs-- Ourselves? — Jaye Anne at Wide Awake Half Asleep explains how her arguments with her mother-in-law may have something to do with herself.
  • A Family Apart — Melissa at Vibrant Wanderings writes about the challenges, and the benefits, of building a family apart from relatives.
  • First Do No Harm — Zoie at TouchstoneZ asks: How do you write about making different parenting choices than your own family experience without criticizing your parents?
  • Military Family SeparationAmy Willa shares her feelings about being separated from extended family during her military family journey.
  • Forging A Village In The Absence Of One — Luschka from Diary of a First Child writes about the importance of creating a support network, a village, when family isn't an option.
  • Respecting My Sister’s Parenting Decisions — Dionna at Code Name: Mama's sister is guest posting on the many roles she has as an aunt. The most important? She is the named guardian, and she takes that role seriously.
  • Multi-Generational Living: An Exercise in Love, Patience, and Co-Parenting — Boomerang Mama at The Other Baby Book shares her experience of moving back in with Mom and Dad for 7 months, and the unexpected connection that followed.
  • A Heartfelt Letter to Family: Yes, We're Weird, but Please Respect Us Anyway — Sheila of A Living Family sincerely expresses ways she would appreciate her extended family’s support for her and her children, despite their “weird” parenting choices.
  • The nuclear family is insane! — Terri at Child of the Nature Isle is grateful for family support, wishes her Mum lived closer, and feels an intentional community would be the ideal way to raise her children.


melissa said...

Once again you've made me think of something I had never considered. My parents were the first in their respective families to leave Arizona, and now I wonder if my own desire to make my own way with my family stems from that.

I so appreciate your honesty when it comes to the internal conflict with the level of attachment you've developed with your children. It's funny how things embedded in the subconscious can interfere with something we know and believe so strongly, but I have definitely asked myself whether or not I was truly doing the "right thing" in holding my daughter so close. I know that I am, but those seeds of doubt still manage to appear.

Meegs said...

Very interesting read. I come from a different perspective and didn't think of that side of things. I hope you can find your happy balance. Remember that there is no one right away!

That said, there are ways to balance living far away while still encouraging your children to be close to your parents. My IL live across the country, but Gwen skypes with them regularly, and we see them in person at least once a year. Hopefully you can find what works for you!

Thanks for sharing!

Lindsay said...

I lived far away from my grandparents as a kid, then moved into the same town as my Grandma when I was 12, so I've sorta had both and I definitely prefer living by family. As a mom, I like living close to family because it is fun and is a nice break. If my husband and I want to go on a date, we just see if his parents are busy! It can be frustrating though when people drop by unannounced and expect that my bathroom and dishes are clean enough for company, lol. I guess I just need top stop being such a lazy housekeeper!

PS, I am an airhead (you probably already realized this)and thought this was the first Tuesday of the month and was about to e-mail in my submission for next week, lol. But apparently today is carnival day, so I just went ahead and posted even though I didn't get in on time. Do you care if I link to carnival even if it isn't linking to me?

Lauren Wayne said...

@Crunchy Con Mommy: Feel free! We're sorry to miss you, but I'll check it out and do a Tweet tomorrow. :)

Laura said...

I grew up feeling very close to my mother's Italian family. All those aunts were around all the time and everyone knew everyone elses' business. My mom appreciated it to an extent, especially since she was ill my entire life... but then, she hated that everyone knew everything.

Now, as a parent, I wish for the closeness. I wish for a gaggle of ladies to swoop in and help me. But I get really mad when I realize that the distant cousins I've friended on facebook are gossiping about my life from random status updates.

I suppose it's more about accepting the seasons of relationship as they come along, regardless of how close we are to family.

Momma Jorje said...

I understand that family celebration mentality and grew into feeling that I was *expected* to do or attend blah blah blah. It didn't help that my ex didn't want to attend... any of that stuff with me. When I married my current husband, I offered up the schedule in advance. If you marry me, you get the family too. You WILL attend family events with me. I spent far too many drives to family events in tears because I was attending alone, yet again. And what bothered me the most was that I knew what my family was thinking - how little my spouse my like them or care for me to not attend with me. That was, after all, how *I* felt about his absence.

From what I've seen, if you can maintain an interest in your children's lives, then you're more likely to see them (and their children) more one they've left the nests.

Momma Jorje said...

And on the topic of those family get-togethers, I got a call from my dad just last night, informing me that he is "cooking chicken" this Sunday and would I be there. Around these parts, dad cooking is reason enough for a big gathering. It is just about the last hobby he has left due to his health.

Becky said...

I love when I read something that I have thought and then wondered if my thinking was normal or not. First, about your grandmother's funeral, I haven't had many relatives die, but the ones who have, I haven't been too sad about it. I wasn't bawling. It was more surreal. I wonder how I'll take the passing of my grandmothers and grandfather now that I'm parent myself and far more emotional in general. Interestingly enough, my husband acted like your cousin, crying and displaying public heart break during his grandpa's funeral. And I probably would have thought just like you did (that I should've acted like him and cried.) I've never been good at being myself in public.

Second, the extended family thing... my grandparents moved to different states than where they were raised to raise their families, so yes, I did think that was normal. Most of their children have moved away although we're just sprawled in four different states that touch each other. When my husband and I bought our first house, it was in the same city where I grew up in. I didn't feel comfortable with the idea of raising my children in the same city and having them attend the same schools that I did. Almost two years ago, we moved. We didn't move to another state, but an hour away. I feel that there is that healthy space (or distance) that I was used to with my grandparents growing up. They aren't too far away to visit, but far enough to give us some independence.

My husband's family lives in Germany, so we're talking about something more similar to your situation. A day's worth of flying and lay-overs to get over to another continent. We do enjoy our visits, so far, and I think comparing quality hours with quality hours, it might be equal in how much my parents spend with our daughter and how much my in-law's spend with her. When we go over to Germany, it's a vacation, it's mostly planned, there's a lot of quality time going on. When we go up to my parents' house, there's rarely one-on-one quality time, hardly any pictures being taken (as I'm not on vacation), and it's just a few hours at a time. So, when I think of it like that, I do think we're making the best of the situation.

There are pros and cons of both living too close and not close enough to your parents. Right? ;)

Justine said...

Momma Jorje makes an interesting point about involving the husband in time with your own family. My husband has always said he doesn't want to come to our reunions, and I've honored this decision in the past, but I'm rethinking it. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

I love how honest you are in this post. While I don't personally have the same family background as you, my husband does, and I see much of the same sentiment from him about family. I'll say "You missed out so much by not having family nearby!" and he says "I turned out okay anyway, so what's the point?" It's a philosophical conversation with no right or wrong answer. Thanks for getting the wheels turning in my head.

Dionna @ Code Name: Mama said...

Such good questions! I know I'm intentionally raising kids who will enjoy being around us - at least, that's what I'm hoping ;) I've always wanted one of those big extended families that get together for regular dinners (I experienced that with a former partner), but my family was so spread out (and so detached) that it was not my reality growing up.
Sometimes Kieran says, "I don't want to go away for college, I want to stay with you!" or "I want to work from home so I can be with you all day!"
It makes my heart smile, because I revel in the fact that he enjoys being with me. But I know that someday he'll likely change his mind - especially if he inherits my wanderlust :)

EarthMamasWorld said...

Wow, this really hit home. I grew up moving frequently. We visited my grandparents twice a year. I have always felt somewhat detatched and as an outsider from my extended family. My parents live 14 hours from me. You really have me thinking about how this affected my relationship with my extended family and how this will affect my kids relationship with my parents.
I wanted to let you know that I really enjoy following your posts and have given you the Versatile Blogger Award. You may have received this before but I wanted to let you know.
You can see the post with the award here: http://www.earthmamasworld.com/gluten-free-almond-flour-oatmeal-bars/

Ursula Ciller said...

I think it is good you are not too clingy. It can be irritating to have a parent want you around ALL the time. And when your kids have their own children, then it is natural for them to come back to you for advice and support. I know I never really appreciated my mum enough untill I was one myself - and I wouldn't expect anyone to understand that and wouldn't hold it against them either. As for will you be able to have a closer family then you had growing up? I think so. My parents were totally separated from any family contact, and here I am wanting to be home with the little ones' grandparents so often! A third generation gathering from scratch :)

Shannon said...

My Dad's parents were the second generation in both families to move away from their families. As such, they were always careful not to be pushy about "having" to attend things, or even call, or write. If they wanted to see us, they asked when would work. 3 of their 4 children stayed in the area, and we all get together on a semi regular basis. The one who did move away moved back after a couple of years.
Contrast that with my Mom's family who definitely felt like it was our duty to attend every family get together, even the ones happening in BC, hosted by extended relatives. I frequently get invited to other people's weddings by my uncle, who receives a paper invitation and then asks the rest of us if we are going to "bother" to come.
Guess which side of the family I feel closer to?

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