My family, both immediate and extended, is hurt and fragmented in ways that unfortunately has become all too common.
Things were not always like this and I hope to help piece together my fragmented family. While I encourage the rest of my family to take similar steps to reconnect, I’m taking that first step by truly committing myself to my relationship with each member of my family.
A little backstory: My parents moved far away from most of our extended family when I was small. I grew up traveling across country or even outside the country to visit our relatives, about once or twice a year. Although I did not see my cousins and other family members often, I enjoyed the time we did spend together and always looked forward to Christmas and summer break trips to go and visit with everyone.
My family’s financial situation, and general stability, declined from my middle school years on. From the time I was fifteen until I was twenty-four, I was not able to visit my extended family. I was able to keep in touch with everyone somewhat through phone calls and Facebook, but efforts to communicate with each other were, honestly, few and far between. That connection was further frayed by the deaths of my grandmothers who had acted as the foundations and mediators for both my mom and dad’s families.
I felt incredibly alienated from my extended family and felt rootless as a result. But things slowly began changing two years ago when my mom moved closer to some of them. I accompanied her when she moved and was able to visit with family I had not seen in ten years. Since she moved I have been able to visit her several times, each time learning a little more about my family and what everyone’s lives have been like during the time we spent apart.
Just recently, I moved in with my mom as she copes with recent health problems. While the main reason for my living down here is to help my mom, I have been using the time intentionally to reconnect with family I largely had been alienated from. Since moving in with my mom, I have realized that my mom has an ongoing grudge against her siblings, my uncles and aunts. She has refused to speak to them for half a year. They, in turn, have neglected to call or visit her.
When I first moved down here I hesitated to visit with family because I knew my mom would not come with me, and I felt strange going alone. For several weeks I tried to encourage her to visit family with me, but eventually I realized that she was, for now, committed to her grudge, and if I wanted to rebuild relationships with them I would have to go about it without her help.
In trying to do things differently, I have reflected on what may have caused discord in my family. I think a lack of communication, visiting with each other infrequently, and a lack of honesty and willingness to be open with one another has caused the most harm to my family. While being so vulnerable has felt scary at first, I’ve discovered it has the effect of fostering deeper conversations and a sense of greater trust between me and members of my family, even if we’re just barely starting to recreate familiarity with one another.
Coming to the realization that I could not force my mom’s family to mend their relationships was incredibly difficult. I want to be able to help, but I have realized that I cannot force relationships to be mended and cannot heal whatever wounds exist.
What I do have control over, however, are my own relationships with my family. That’s why I’ve chosen to slowly rebuild my relationships with my cousins, aunts, and uncles. I have now also experienced the joy of reconnecting with family and sharing the fun, boring, happy, and painful parts of life with each other. I do not want to miss out on more in the future with them, whether or not I am living close by.