Friday, June 15, 2012

Large Families

If you've read my profile you may have caught that we have a lot of family who live nearby but let me give you an idea of how much family we are talking about here...  

My husband is #10 in a family with 12 siblings - yes, I know, that is not a typo.  Nearly all of them are married and there are a total of nearly 30 grand-kids and the first great-grand baby is on the way.  His parents and several siblings with their children live within 20 miles of us.  
A portion of the grand-kids on "pumpkin patrol" at the family reunion.

I am the oldest of 5 and the only girl.  While most of my brothers have moved away, one still lives at home with my parents - about 5 miles down the road.  About halfway on the road between us and them - my grandparents.  My mom is the oldest of 5 girls - 2 still live in our same community as well.  The other 2 live about an hour away.  They all have kids too.  My step-dad is the oldest living of 4 siblings and his mom lives about an 1 1/2 away and is rather fragile having lost his dad a year ago.  My dad recently moved out of state but did live in our same community right by our children's school.

So what role does a large, close family like this play in your life?  Well, on one hand its great but, of course, is sometimes too much of a good thing.  There is always someone there to lend a helping hand - of course, this also means there is always someone there asking you for a helping hand.  The kids have some sort of built-in playmates - sometimes they are too much alike and fight like cats and dogs.

The cousins get up a game of ice hockey at the cabin.
There is always an invite to come hang out on the weekends - but there is rarely enough time to get the stuff done you need to get done at home or get to your own hobbies if you both have to work during the week.  
Snowmobile trip with the brother-in-laws and sister-in-laws.
Its usually not a big deal to find someone to babysit or take the kids for an overnight - sometimes this means you barely get time to see your kids.  And when they get old enough to call their cousins and scheme their own plans it could mean your kid disappears for a week at a time and comes home with a new haircut or color you don't approve of.  It can be fun to team up and tackle a project at someone's house together and swap favors the next time - be prepared for them to also point out that they noticed you haven't gotten around to getting something done yet and exactly how they think you should do it.  
Helping Grandpa clean the dirt off the bobcat.
There are always family members on hand to run out and attend that school event you forgot to invite everyone too and the kids feel very supported - however, if you don't invite everyone in the entire family, your name may be mud.  You don't have to invest in all the big tool items, etc. because you can borrow and swap as needed - you may never see it again or you may come home and find someone has stopped by and borrowed the exact item you needed for your own project that night...  

Now, don't get me wrong - we love our family and we love having a lot of family around.  If we didn't, we wouldn't spend so much time with them.  And the benefits do greatly outweigh the cons on the importance scale.  It just does make life different for us.  We are always on the run to something.  Because we want to be involved and supportive of our family the way they are there for us.  
Cheering on my brother at his hockey game.
But we have come to the point where we've decided that we have to be careful to not let the giant extended family to swallow our own family and us as individuals.  So we've slowly eased everyone into the fact that we just can't be there for every holiday, every occasion, every celebration.  We try to distribute ourselves as evenly as we can to the various facets of the family.  We try to make sure that family know they are always welcome in our plans.  
Hunting Easter Eggs at Grandma and Grandpa's farm.
But we also need to have those times when its just our core family - mother, father, daughter and son.  Mother's Day and Father's Day are a good example.  We leave it open to the mother or father to decide on that weekend.  Sometimes we do go to the family gatherings.  Sometimes we do something by ourselves, like daddy taking a ride on his motorcycle.  And we always try to do something just the four of us.  

Its not meant to exclude or devalue the importance of our extended family, but we want our children to have that focused time and those special "just us" memories.  When our daughter got to be about 3 and was burned out from rushing to 4 different gatherings with family in 2 days, we decided enough was enough.  So we started the tradition of being home in our PJs on Christmas Day.  Anyone who is around and doesn't mind that we will be in our PJs and sweats, our hair may be unbrushed, there may be packages from Christmas Eve and wrapping paper from Christmas morning all over the living room, is welcome to come sit by the fireplace and enjoy some mulled wine and cheesy potatoes and play with all the new goodies.  
Everyone nods off for a nap after the unwrapping.
My mom and step-dad and youngest brother always come - also in their sweats and toting their new toys and my mom's awesome cinnamon rolls.  Because of some scheduling conflicts, we had to break from that last year and had two gatherings that day.  My mom was the first to comment about how much she missed that relaxing day instead of the madhouse.  And the kids were so much more burned out and barely got to play with their new toys those first couple of days.  This year I am determined to restore that tradition.

We thrive with that large extended family to share the fun times and prop each other up during the hard times, but we also need to prioritize and make sure that we are putting our core family first and creating those "just us" memories and relationships too.

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