“Sometimes I forget you have parents,” she said.
“Yeah,” I said, “I sometimes feel like in a familiar vacuum.”
I’ve had some surprising thoughts come up about family lately. These thought are not necessarily because of Lent as much as pregnancy and Lent this year just happens to fall in the third trimester.
The thoughts have to do with the baby and my parents and my grandparents.
Backstory, when I was four, my parents moved to a different state than their family clusters. I grew up being the only P—— family in town. My experience of my extended family was visits a couple times a year. Then about once a year. Then every couple years. Then every few years and I wouldn’t see everyone. My brother and I have fourteen cousins. When we were less than ten, it was easy to run around and play games and have one with near strangers. By the time we were in highschool, then in college, we all had different lives, so all our interactions were the strained “catch-up” with each other interactions and stayed pretty shallow. Now that we cousins are adults and married and having children, it’s very clear that we are strangers to each other.
This dynamic is more-so with my aunts and uncles and grandparents, only the compensation is the older generation is more interested in knowing the younger generation than the younger generation is in knowing younger strangers. So I talk with my elders and it’s great. Catch-up. Shallow.
I have no functional relationship with any of my relatives outside my immediate family. Even with my parents and brother, we all live in different cities and see each other twice a year. Conversations are turning into catching up with each other and remembering old times and being shallow so as to stay happy so as to not ruin our rare times together.
All growing up, the experience of not having much family around was all I knew so it was normal and it was okay.
Now that I’m adult, I’m realizing what I missed out on. I realize this whenever I talk to people who have close, or at least functional relationships with a grandparent, an uncle or aunt a cousin, a nephew or niece. Familial bonds, something I’ve never experienced. Even with my immediate family unit, how we were before I moved out, our bonds were strained and ambiguous at best.
I feel like I’ve lost something. More than that, like I was deprived of a really rich dynamic of family relationships. I feel sad and angry and like this is not how it was meant to be.
I think that I would like my child to know their grandparents and their uncle my brother and their aunt his wife.
I wish they could know their Lola and their aunts and uncles.
I want this for them like I wish I had it for myself. I long for deeper family connections because family is heritage. My ancestry, my family history, is the story of where we have been, who we have been, what choices we have made, what things we have done well or badly, what challenges we have overcome. Ultimately, and in my case most joyously, my family heritage is the story of how the Lord has blessed and provided for us. I would like my kids to know their heritage as more than just photos in a book. I would like them to have relationships with their ancestors.
Heritage and ancestry are necessary as anchor points in a person’s identity. Family connections are likewise an anchor point in identity. When you know where you fit into a family system, where you stand in a greater scheme, and where you are in relation to designated others, you have a better grasp on who you are.
True, family is not an ultimate source of identity, and sometimes people outgrow their families. Some family systems are unhealthy and should be outgrown. Family patterns can and often should be changed. But even in these cases, this doesn’t mean forgetting your history and certainly shouldn’t mean disconnecting yourself from your history.
How can we ever hope to learn from our mistakes if we have no idea from where we’ve come?
This sort of context is why blood family is different from family you choose for yourself as you grow up. When the friends around you become family, that is perfect and beautiful and should be something everyone experiences. But you don’t have the same history with these friends, and they have different history than you. The connection is not the same.
Besides that, when my parents are old and at the age for old-folks-homes, it’s certainly not going to be my friends from church that put them up in a home or invite them to live in their homes. No, that’s going to be me, their blood family. When I’m old and unable to live on my own, it’s not going to be the children of the members of my community group that take care of me. No, that responsibility will fall on my children because they are on my blood family.
Anyway. Now for the awful conflict going on in me about my parents, grandparents and my child. And not just awful, but awkward because here is where I contradict myself. Lots of times, I feel angry about not getting to know my grandparents very well. I don’t know that I was intentionally kept from my extended family, but there was quite a bit of distance that I just couldn’t cross. Distance that is still there.
The awful thought is wondering how much effort I’ll put into helping my kids now their ancestors. I think of what that kind of effort will cost me and I quiver and waver and start to grumble.
But this is spiteful and bitter and flies in the face of all the family values I’m unearthing in myself. I want to say that this conflict has a fairly simple resolution. I’m going to look past the choices of my parents that I don’t like and work to foster good nurturing relations between my children and my parents. Heritage. Ancestry. Blood family.