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Home for the holidays

21 years ago I moved a couple hours south from San Francisco to live with my then boyfriend, now husband. I also coincidentally ended up living a 15-minute drive from my parents’ farm, which they had just purchased after looking at properties many miles apart from Central to Northern California.

A typical scene at a family gathering: A glass of wine, conversation, kids, and at least a couple of dogs!

This was the start of a family life that I never envisioned when I left my parents’ home in Michigan at the age of 17, moved out to California, and expected to be the adult child furthest from my family seat. I ended up raising my two children within a short drive of a farm that became the center of an extended family of cousins, aunts and uncles, and my two healthy, active parents.

My mother never gave me much parenting advice, feeling that she and my father had pretty much been dumped into the middle of the hardest job they ever had with no preparation. However, she did tell me one thing that she and my father had made a decision about before they had children. They made a conscious decision that their family was going to get along.

Maybe this sounds like a little thing. But it wasn’t to them, coming from families who bickered, fought, and kept their distance as adults.

I’m not saying that my siblings and I, our children who are cousins, and spouses and other extensions of our family don’t ever have disagreements. But my parents did see success in their approach.

I wish I could offer a formula for other families, whom I often see suffering during the holidays because of the pain that they carry as a group. But there is no formula that we follow except that simple decision that our parents made: No matter what it takes, we get along.

Sometimes it’s not easy. I know that everyone in our family has things that they don’t say, that it might actually feel good to say in the moment. But there are many things in a family that simply don’t need to be said. We are not each other’s therapists, friends, or supervisors. All of the other categories of relationships amongst humans are severable.

No matter whether you see your family or not, they are family. They are by definition, not by choice.

I know people, adults now, who have chosen to take this tactic within their complex extended families though it means that they bite their tongues when other family members don’t.  I can’t tell you that this is the right thing to do, though they assure me that they get some benefit from it.

Others I know have chosen to sever their relationships, even to the point of denying their children a relationship with grandparents. And they have just as good reasons.

I am looking forward to our last holiday celebration on the family farm, which my parents are now leaving after maintaining it on their own for 21 years. When I was 17, I had no appreciation for what my parents had given us. But now with teenagers of my own, I completely understand.

To have an extended family that can come together as a family and get along is a gift that my parents created consciously and without precedent in their own families. I hope that it is a gift that my own children and their cousins will also inherit and cherish.

Thanksgiving at the farm

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Posted in Parenting.

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2 Responses

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  1. Parmalee says

    Lovely… I feel just a little envious of your good family times!

  2. Suki says

    I guess my hope is not to incite envy, but rather to inspire parents with young children to think about how they present conflicts with extended family. I know that some families have too much conflict to overcome, but sometimes I think people just feel like it’s easier to avoid family rather than face their differences.

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