Being a part of a family isn’t a given, it takes work. Yes, we are all born into families and have relatives of one form or another, but blood bonds alone are not enough to make you part of a family. Being part of a family means being involved, and that takes effort.
I was raised in a tight knit family, at least on my mother’s side. It took my husband a lot of getting used to when he would come to family parties with me. There would be so many of us and we’d all be up in each others’ business.
My husband wasn’t raised this way and neither was my father. My father’s parents didn’t have a lot of family growing up. My parental grandfather was an orphan and my paternal grandmother was a the only child of a single working mom who didn’t have the luxury of spending family time with her daughter. Because of this, my paternal grandparents weren’t sure how to be a family unit. They did the best they could but it was work for them. My dad learned more about the importance of being part of a family from my mom and her family than from his own parents. If being parents was work for my paternal grandparents, being grandparents was even more difficult. After all, they’d done their job, they’d raised two sons to adulthood, and now it was just the two of them again; except it wasn’t. They weren’t really sure what to do with grandkids, so most of the time they just didn’t do anything. Because of this, my siblings and I had little connection to them and we pretty much had to be forced to visit them.
My maternal grandmother was very different from my paternal grandparents. She was very involved in her kids’ lives; almost too involved sometimes. She often stayed with us during the winter and we visited throughout the spring and summer months. I loved going to her house for the weekend. We’d bake fresh blueberry muffins, swim at the beach, go to the play ground, play cards, watch jeopardy or baseball, and top off the day with an ice cream from Kool Kone. As I grew older, I remained connected to my grandmother. Sure she was old, cranky, nosy, and drove me nuts, but I loved her just the same. She taught me how to crotchet, made me love crossword puzzles, and shared stories about my ancestors. When she died I was heartbroken.
What made the difference in how I felt about my grandparents was the amount of work they put into the relationship. My paternal grandparents lived only 15 minutes away yet I hardly saw them. They knew so little about me that they didn’t even buy my gifts for holidays, instead they gave my mom money and asked her to get me something or just gave me a check; which to a young child excited to open one gift on Christmas eve was a real let down. My maternal grandmother lived 45 minutes away yet I saw her almost every holiday and many times in between. My grandmother always picked out her own gifts for me when I was a kid which often times were a little odd, but they showed thought and meant something to me. When my paternal grandparents died, I had so little connection with them that I was sad that my dad had lost his parents, but I didn’t feel like I myself had lost anything.
Being a part of a family is about more than being blood related, it’s about having those experiences and making those connections, which takes work. Being family is about sleep overs and special outings, cheering from the sidelines at a tee ball game, celebrating holidays and special occasions together, sending birthday cards, or even just a quick phone call to see how swim lessons went or how school is going. Without putting in this effort, you aren’t part of a family, you’re just someone who might be compatible with a group of people should you ever need a kidney.