I grew up in a “Leave it to Beaver” kind of household. Sure, we had our share of unique issues, but overall we were the stereotypical wholesome all-American family. Parents in a long-term marriage, two boys, two girls, we all got along remarkably well and still have extremely strong bonds. We grew up in fresh country air, and our house was the safe, stable welcome-haven for friends and strangers alike. We traveled together as a family unit on vacations and to visit relatives. Holidays looked like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting.
By contrast, my husband’s family is a blended & extended one. Put another way, their family tree has more than one trunk, lots of branches, roots and off-shoots. When I first started dating him, I would ask him to tell me about his family…and he kept replying “not yet.” Finally, around date number six or so, he finally acquiesced and said “ok, but you better get out a piece of paper and a pencil.” At our wedding, after we took the quaint photo of my family and relatives in attendance, it was time to call up my groom’s side of the family. The photographer quite literally had to take steps back and put the wide-angle lens on his camera.
This past weekend, we hosted a gathering of approximately a dozen or so of my husband’s family members. Ranging in age from 2 to 61, we had what is becoming now an annual tradition of a pool party to just connect and have fun. We try to get as many parts of the family together as possible, depending on who’s available at the time. The one commen thread throughout the family (well, for the most part anyway) was my father-in-law. Unfortunately, he is no longer with us to straighten out any confusion on who’s related to who and how. But I will tell you that the best parts of these gatherings are the stories that will live on forever. Everytime we are together, we each learn something new, hear some stories yet untold. Even siblings learn new things about each other. I think the best quote of the whole weekend was “we aren’t sure about her… she’s either my sister or my cousin.”
And truly, that is one of the most endearing things about this group… exact “status” of the relation isn’t really important… it doesn’t matter if they are step-siblings, in-laws, half-siblings, etc…. they are just plain sisters and brothers in each other’s eyes. Aunts, Uncles, cousins and grandparents are just that. No second-this or once-removed-that. And no matter how long it has been since the last time someone has been in touch with someone else, the get-together is full of fun and laughter.
I think a remarkable benefit of blended & extended families is their inherent flexibility and acceptance. When I first got to know them, it took literally no time at all before they welcomed me, a June Cleaver, into the mix. A few years ago, after one of the first times we got together with a large crowd at my sister-in-law’s house, as we were leaving, my son said with an exhausted smile “Mommy, your family is fun. But daddy’s family is crazy… in a good way.”
I think that is truly the key. It doesn’t matter what kind of family structure, size, or make-up we are part of. What matters is that we show our kids how families love unconditionally, are there for each other, know how to have fun together, and most of all, help them create amazing memories that will become good stories to pass along to future generations.