HOW OFTEN DO YOU THINK ABOUT your extended family beyond your grandparents — your aunts, uncles, and cousins?
The importance of these relationships are mostly unrecognized in our culture today. Yet, involved aunts and uncles can have tremendous positive impact on children. Not only emotionally, but economically as well. For example, the extended family can step in to help, acting as a buffer during times of unemployment or illness, alleviating the negative effects of these types of events — especially for developing children.
When I was young, though I only saw them a couple of times a year my aunts, uncles, cousins and second-cousins were an important part of my life. Age-wise, I fell into the spaces between my cousins, the closest in age being about five years older than I. But that didn’t matter to me. In fact, because of the age differences, I looked up to them as worldly and wise. And because I only had brothers, I was intrigued by my closest girl-cousin, from whom I inherited hand-me-down clothing (which rarely fit because she was small-waisted and I was not).
I fondly remember the noisy family holidays and picnics, with the adults chatting calmly while we children ran around whoopin’ and hollerin’ and getting into general mischief.
Of course, not all extended family influences are positive. The first time I drank alcohol was with a second cousin. She was about sixteen — a worldly teenager — and I was just thirteen. I was spending the night at her house, I don’t remember why. She wanted to go to a party with her high school friends, and I must have convinced her to let me tag along, so we snuck out of the house when we were supposed to be sleeping. I don’t remember much about that night, except at one point I was lying on the ground, looking up at the stars and giggling, vaguely aware of my poor cousin trying to figure out how to get me home. Somehow, we managed to get back into the house and her bedroom without getting caught.
And abusive relationships do not confine themselves to the nuclear family.
But bad influences aside, connections to aunts, uncles, and other extended family members, if close enough, can provide a sense of support and security for children, giving them a place to turn to for advice if they don’t feel comfortable talking to their parents.
What was and is your extended family like?
- Make a list of your aunts, uncles, and first cousins. Is this a long or short list? What’s your story about the size of your family?
- Growing up, what were extended family gatherings like?
- Do you still have extended family gatherings? When do they occur and what are they like now?
- Does your extended family live in close proximity to one another or are they dispersed? What effect do you think geographic location has on your relationships with them, both now and when you were growing up?
- Who, of your aunts, uncles, and cousins was most influential in your life? Describe your relationship with that person and how she or he affected you.
- Were you close to any family member in particular? What was it about that person that drew you to him or her?
- Were you intimidated by or afraid of any of your uncles, aunts or cousins? Why?
- What, if anything, do you wish you could change about your extended family or any of its members?
- What common history do you inherit from your extended family? And how does this history affect how you define yourself?
- How would you describe your family as a clan?
- What’s the funniest story you can remember that involves a member of your extended family?