On Family

There’s a great discussion going on over at XUP’s about extended family — cousins, grandparents, uncles, and aunts. Her post was inspired by Guillermo’s blog, which is a fascinating discussion of what it’s like to be an immigrant in Canada; Guillermo got us all thinking about how one of the things an immigrant gives up is all those great big family dinners and weddings and christenings — the sense of being part of a tribe, rather than just a nuclear family.

Growing up, my mother’s family was very close. My grandparents were married for more than 65 years and were the rock of that side of the family, and right up until I was an adult, all of my mother’s siblings and their children got together at least four or five times a year at Nana and Papa’s house. Every Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Easter, at a minimum, would mean a big dinner, giving an oral report to my aunts and uncles about how school was going, and playing with all my cousins.

Those were good times.

When I hit adulthood, I moved away. First an hour or so away, then to Ottawa, which was six hours away (closer to eight when travelling with three kids). I must admit, I really couldn’t wait to get away. I missed my mom, sure, but I wanted to make some space for myself. I wanted Sir Monkeypants and I to have a chance to figure out what our marriage was going to be without third party interference or advice. I wanted us to make a home of our own. We still went down to visit for most of the major holidays, but we also built our own life here.

Then we had kids, and suddenly I realized why people move to be closer to their parents when they have children. I’m sure if my parents or Sir Monkeypants’ parents lived in town, they’d be driving me crazy with their comments and their dropping by and their expectation that we’d have dinner at their house every single week.

But I do miss that feeling of having an extended family. I miss having other adults around that my kids look to as authority figures, other adults to help in bringing them up. I miss having a house crammed full of people every time you turn around. I miss seeing my nieces and nephews getting bigger, hearing about the details of their lives, seeing them getting to know my own kids.

A few years ago we realized that we were missing that sense of community in our lives — it takes a villiage to raise a child, and all that — and we made a conscious effort to create an “surrogate extended family” for ourselves. We invited the neighbour’s kids over for dinner; we made regular playdates with old friends who had kids the same age as ours. We made an effort to chat with people we saw on our street, and I got involved with the PTA to give our kids a stronger sense of belonging somewhere.

There’s still something missing, though.

We do the best we can; although I gripe CONSTANTLY about the drive down and keep threatening to stop doing it altogether, our visits south are really important to us. We encourage our kids to call their cousins (especially Sir Monkeypants’ sister’s boys, who are close to the Captain in age and are serving as his “brothers” since we refuse to produce a baby boy for him). We write letters to their grandparents and send them care packages of school art.

And we do get to see them a few times a year, which is better than having them across an ocean.

I don’t ever want to move from Ottawa; this is my home, it’s where my heart is. But sometimes I do wish the world were just a wee bit smaller.

12 thoughts on “On Family

  1. Very nice. As you know my family is in the same area as yours and I often think the ideal thing would be to maybe move to Toronto. That way we’re only an hour or so away — far enough not to live on top of each other, but close enough to be there for all the important stuff. That trip from Ottawa is really, really long. Why is this province so bloody big?

  2. MrsCarlSagan

    I so understand how you feel. We like having our own space too, but I would LOVE to have my parents close by. Every time we are out and about on a sunday afternoon and we pass a house that has several cars in the driveway, I think to myself “oh how nice! They’re having sunday dinner”, and my heart catches in my throat a little bit.

  3. What a great story… Imagine how smaller many of us would like the world to be!

    I am very happy that my post triggered such wonderful stories like XUP’s, yours and the ones at your posts comments. It shows that language does not have to be a barrier to share mutual feelings.

    I love blogging!

    Have a great day!

  4. interesting. i have a large(ish) extended family, 25 of us. we get together for all of the holidays plus each birthday. my kids LOVE it, my parents LOVE it too. but bert and i (and other family members) have grown to find it a bit too much. it means that we have 25 birthdays to attend or host each year plus all the major holidays…and the sporatic get togethers for other celebrations or just because! also, i find with large close extended families there is alot of opinions!!! it’s wonderful when things go wrong, lots of support and love but it’s difficult to create boundaries.

    one thing i’ve noticed about couples who live away frm their extended families is that they tend to have closer friendships with people than those with lots of family close by.

  5. Over the years DH and I have occasionally entertained the idea of moving to Ottawa, but our proximity to family here is one of the main things that keeps us from picking up and leaving. I think my parents would do fine…they are young enough to be able to travel easily. If we moved I think it would really devastate his mom and dad. They already have one set of grandchildren all the way out in BC, so having ours so close means the world to them. Also, we see them often enough to be nice, but not so often they are an intrusion. Ditto for my parents…we have just the right amount of contact.

    I also love living in the same city as my brother and his family. I used to baby sit their kids when I was younger, and now their kids babysit our young ones. It’s wonderful. I love that we every now and then bump into each other at Loblaws or RONA or at the Unionville Street Festival.

    I do wish Toronto and Ottawa were closer, though. we have a lot of friends up in Ottawa I’d love to see more often. Not to mention, I would love to go to BOLO next year!

  6. like the new look.

    we live the same situation. our families are a little closer (2hrs and 4 hrs away) which sometimes is just far enough, but not close enough. it would be great to have the parents closer for babysitting and such. and since the jellybean will be an only child, it’s too bad that he doesn’t get to play with his cousins. but we too have created a wonderful network of friends that are more like family. and we just try to get to see the families as often as we can.

  7. I hear you. It is hard. We moved away because it is good to have some space from the family but with kids I would sure like them to be around more. I am working on building our community too in our neighborhood. It is hard work and it takes time but I have already seem some payoffs.

  8. Amelia Witherspoon

    I know exactly what you mean, although I am not yet married, nor do I have children. In fact, my family seems entirely different from yours, but I think this feeling can be universal once you hit a certain age. You gain a certain wisdom. My family is not very close — my dad’s brothers’ families live either at the other end of the state or in an entirely different state altogether. They also have very different family values from each other, so it’s sometimes hard to find common ground. On the other side, my mom’s youngest brother started his family later in life, and the middle brother never stayed married for long. Family functions (like holidays) never really held a prominent place in our lives. But when I moved to Cleveland, and was suddenly alone for the first time, I realized how much I need to stay near at least my immediate family…how much they mean to me. It made me realize that family really is the one thing you can depend on, and I can’t imagine what I would do if I moved any further away. My boyfriend’s family has what you have, large, with lots of parties and visits and feasts. They too have made me see the value in my own relatives. I think it’s great you’re writing about this so honestly!

  9. We are simply surrounded by family around here. From the kid’s grandparents to Aunts, Uncles, cousins and friends we’ve adopted as family along the way. Our house is a pop in house. You never know who’s going to stop by or when. My girls spend time with extended family on an almost daily basis. I can’t imagine raising them any other way. That being said I realize it isn’t a lifestyle for everyone, but it does work for us.

  10. I only live an hour from my Mom and her family but I do occasionally think that moving back to my home town would be a good thing (then I give my head a shake). My mother has 9 bros and sisters and that has translated into a HUGE extended family. We used to gather many times a year (like you) but now it is only once a year if at all. With the occasional wedding thrown in for good measure. I miss those gatherings but my boys love the once a year and I keep reminding myself that a gathering of a dozen people (my sister and brother both live here in Ottawa) is just as fun as a gathering of 60, and way easier.

  11. Moving out east was really hard for me as it meant moving SO FAR away from my family. We’d lived in Calgary for five years, but (driving fast) we could get from our door to my parents’ in Regina in just over six hours. Not necessarily an easy jaunt, but definitely do-able, especially in an emergency.

    When my dad was sick last year and we were suddenly told he wouldn’t live through the night, I had no possible way to get home to be with him. It was an awful night.

    That being said, I definitely feel like we are where we need to be and where we are meant to be.

    Unrelated: Love the new looks.

    Also unrelated: Lynn, you’re one of my favorite writers. I don’t understand how some bloggers get all the press when other really great/entertaining/funny writer (that’d be you!) don’t. I laugh at almost everyone of your posts! Keep it up.

  12. shyla

    Yes, I’d have to agree with Amy@Muddy Boots, I love your writing. I love your easy conversational style, and openness – and I’ve known you since highschool, but not for the in-between (establishing your own relationship/family). I’m now a mother and I love reading how you are doing it, especially with 3! I love being a stay at home mom but it has it’s moments, and I’m only doing it for a year – then it’s back to work.
    I love how honest you are and how well you capture your feelings. So heartfelt and true!
    My in-laws are very close and that’s both good and bad. I don’t see my younger brother and his family much although they are the closest. I see my older brother’s family some and we love that! My parents come by the odd time. I love my family and my own little family. In-laws are interesting and new for me. Cryptic I know. But it’s all good!

Comments are closed.