Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Family ties in adulthood

As we get older, our relationships with our families change. When we’re small, we’re surgically attached to our parents. During our teenage years, we strike out alone, but then when adulthood comes around we start to rebuild our relationships with our parents as not only parents but people when we start to see into the world beyond ourselves and have lives and families of our own. Family relationships aren’t always easy to navigate and negotiate.

Your Parents
As you get older it can be hard to accept that your parents are getting older too. As children we’re selfish, absorbed in our own little worlds, and in this particular relationship that can linger when we grow up. If we're lucky enough to have a good relationship with our family, we assume our parents will always be there to provide love, guidance, and support, so the first moments when you start to notice some frailty and signs of old age creeping in can be a huge shock to the system.

It’s important to make the most of your parents while they’re relatively hale and hearty. Spending time with them is something that you should make room for and not just in the role of grandparents to your children if you have kids. Your own relationship with them is important and must be maintained. Going for lunch with your mom or taking your father to a game or concert.

It can be hard to figure out how to form a more adult relationship with our parents - when you’re home with them you might find yourself revisiting that teenage urge to slam doors and huff dramatically. But take a breath and push that away so that you can form a new and more equal relationship with your parents as fellow adults. Try to engage in their hobbies with them - they probably have more time to spend doing what they love now you’re an adult so why not join in? It’s often a lot easier to talk when you’re occupied doing something else so you don’t have to focus entirely on each other - that’s why some of the best conversations we have are in the front seats of cars when we’re driving somewhere. Figure out who your parents are away from their family life - their misspent youths, their favorite bands from when they were teenagers, their relationships with their own parents - and you’ll figure out you’re more similar than you realized.

Remember that relationships with parents are not always easy. If you feel that they are trying to infringe too much on your life, particularly on your own parenting, know that it’s absolutely okay to set boundaries. Communicate in a respectful but firm way so that they're aware that you’re an adult and when it comes to your family, your rules are much more important than the way they would prefer for you to do things.

Your Grandparents
If you’re lucky enough to have your grandparents in your life as an adult, you probably already know how lucky you are to still have them around. As you get older, your grandparents do as well, and you might notice that taking care of them is starting to stress your parents out. Looking after elderly relatives is on the rise, and it can create a huge sense of worry for people of baby boomer age.

Take the weight off your parents’ shoulders whenever you can. Take dinner over to your grandparents, do a little light cleaning or errand running, check in on them. Take photos of your friends and family to show your grandparents, introduce your pets to them, read them excerpts from the newspaper, talk to them about current events, teach them some technology. Maybe suggest that they spend some time at their local senior center - they can form new friendships, play cards, and have an array of new activities available to them.

If your parents are worried about your grandparents, those worries will only increase if one of them passes away, leaving your other grandparent living alone. Remember that it’s okay to suggest assisted living facilities and nursing homes - these are often nice places where older people can make friends, socialize, and take part in fun activities. 

Your In-Laws
One of the big relationship building exercises of your adult life is commingling your ways with another family's - your in-law's. Being thrown into a brand new family can be fun and loving but can also be difficult and stressful - figuring out how this family operates, your place in it, how to negotiate another family’s Christmas traditions. As always, you have to give and take a little. Sometimes in-laws can be an issue - we clash with people in our own families, of course we will clash with people in our partner's family -  but they can also be the source of a huge amount of joy. Being accepted into a whole new family can be a beautiful thing - your sister in law might become your new best friend, your mother in law might be the greatest grandma in the world to your kids. But it’s important to communicate and to make sure that your partner is on your side if there's not a metaphorical seat at the table for you in their family.

Your Siblings
Of all your family, your siblings are the ones who have been there your whole life and will be there for the rest of your life. However, that doesn’t mean that you’ll get on well with them - the saying goes that you can’t pick your family, and sometimes you might look across at your brother or sister and wonder how on earth you grew up in the same house. You didn’t choose the relationship but you can choose how you react to it. If your personalities clash, remember that it's okay to keep some space between you.

You may already have family traditions but why not create some new ones with your siblings? You could throw an annual holiday party or summer reunion that will enable you to spend time with your brothers, sisters, and their families. You could also try to spend time with them more regularly if they live close by - take a look at what’s happening in your local area and arrange to attend concerts and festivals together as a family.

Your Nieces And Nephews
Not everybody who loves kids has kids, whether that’s because they decided it wasn’t right for them or because their lives went in a different direction. If that’s the case for you, you probably place a lot of value on your relationship with your nieces and nephews. However, if you aren’t used to hanging out with kids, it can be hard to know how to relate to them. It isn’t all about throwing gifts at them every time you see them - although that helps - but it’s about forming a great relationship with them that will last right through into their adulthood.

The best way to do that is to ask them what they’re into at the moment. A lot of the time, that probably isn’t too detached from things that you love. Your niece might love Captain America, and guess what? The Marvel movies might just be your thing too, so you can spend hours talking about how cool Captain Marvel is with her. Kids love being talked to as though they’re adults - don’t boss them around or talk down to them. Ask for their opinions and talk to them as though they’re the same age as you but with less curse words of course. Another great thing to do with kids is encouraging creativity - offer to babysit and get stuck into an art project with them. Tape sheets of paper together and trace their outline on it to color in; or take them out into nature to collect fallen leaves, sticks, and petals to make collages with; collect shells on the beach and paint them. Make an effort to have fun with them, listen to what they want to do, and treat them like little adults.

Your Cousins
Many of us grew up alongside our cousins, with great memories of Christmases and summers spent together. But when you’re an adult it is a whole lot harder to maintain those relationships and it’s easy to drift. The best way to prevent that from happening is to make an effort: set aside time each week to call them, to send an email, or to hang out. If you live close together, treat your cousins like your friends and make an effort to meet them. They may always be there at big family occasions because of your blood ties, but you can’t take that for granted and like any relationship, you need to put effort into it. Your shared memories are great but you need to create new ones too.

The Rest of Your Extended Family
With busy lives and schedules it can be hard to keep in touch with your extended family in adulthood. Simple gestures are a great way of letting people know that you care about them. As always, if there are members of your extended family who you don’t get along with and who you dislike, you don’t have to stay in contact with them. That racist uncle? You don’t have to hang out. That cousin who teased you when you were little and has only got worse since then? You don’t have to be friends. Politeness is great if you have to spend time together, but remember that you don’t have to maintain relationships with people who are toxic just because you’re related to each other. That's why our adult family is, to me, our true family - made up of both people we're related to and people we choose to be related to. Framily.

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