I’m an only child. So is Marianne. We didn’t have siblings to grow up with. It was just my parents and me much of the time. Same for Marianne. Perhaps that’s why both Marianne and I value family so much.
Marianne always comments on how much, as a young girl, she savored getting together with cousins. Living out in the country alone with parents, and no other kids nearby, could be quite lonely. She was fortunate that there were lots of aunts and uncles on her mother’s side and that meant lots of cousins. To this day, her relationship with her cousins is very close. In fact they all still get together for lunch every month (until Covid had a say in that).
I had lots of aunts and uncles, too. But a family falling out when I was about 7 or 8 drove the family apart so I stopped seeing all my cousins, aunts and uncles for the next 60 years. Bummer! I missed a lot.
The power of family intensifies with age…
In my recent post “The Power Of Belonging” I note that in Western cultures “Children are encouraged to ‘leave the nest’ for college, work or marriage – often too far away for consistent social interaction - leaving aging parents and grandparents to live lonely lives – either relatively isolated or in artificial social or eldercare communities for ‘seniors.’ ”
Our two children are 2 hours and 6 hours away. They both have very busy, thriving careers and their own family responsibilities. So we are always in competition for their time, attention and validation that we are still important in their lives.
We love them unconditionally and revel in every phone call, text or email… and an in-person visit, in the Covid era, is gold. Covid has prevented us from seeing our elder son and his family for almost 2 years, so a scheduled upcoming visit this week from him and his wife is almost too good to be true!
When you’re an only child like Marianne and me, this phenomenon of our children leaving the nest would seem to be easier to deal with because we are accustomed more to being alone. But the reality is that it is just as traumatic… especially as we age. Why is that?
Family is the foundation of our identity.
The construction of the fully-formed “I” begins early. Family provides safety, security and unconditional acceptance. It forms the sturdy platform on which we can build our identity. Family is our first school. Our early interactions with the world are almost exclusively within our family.
So who we are, our culture, our values, our core identity are initially family-dependent.
Studies indicate that individuals who live with their family tend to be happier than those who live alone. Families protect us. They believe in us. They support and encourage us even when the rest of the world is filled with doubters. They comfort us when we fall. They cheer us up when we’re down.
As we grow up and interact with other people and experiences, our identity deepens and enriches with perspective and color. We see with a wider lens. We learn to look deeper. We learn how to dream and overcome barriers. We learn the consequences of choice.
But for most of us, we can, even at our age, see through all that experience back to what formed our core identity – our family. The power of family is foundational to who we are. We see it all around us – not just in our human world, but also in animals, insects, fish, birds – the power of family is universal.
So the message of this post is a reminder to myself and to all of us, especially as we age, that family is core.
Even in a world that encourages independence and self-reliance, strengthening and nurturing family relationships, while sometimes a challenge, is meaningful, fulfilling work.
Whatever the challenge – distance, busy lives, neglect, a different path, hurt feelings, uncomfortable memories – finding our way back to the shared joys and unconditional love of family is a critical component to living a truly ageless and fulfilled life.