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extended familyby Erin Weist

A few weeks ago, Caitlin from this blog posted a great article on putting our families first in our lives (see her article here: Five Great Ways to Make Family the Priority). It started me thinking about the ways we can expand that influence to include extended families or friends within our circle of influence who have no family presence. So here are a few more great ways to increase the influence of families in our own lives and in our communities.

  1. Reach out to an older generation. If you or a spouse have living grandparents or great grandparents make an effort to include them in your lives. Holidays are a perfect opportunity to open your home but regular traditions of any kind make for great memories. I have a sister-in-law that has spent the last several years inviting her kids’ great-grandmother to dinner one Sunday every month. It has been an uplifting experience for everyone involved and a way for her kids to learn more about where they come from.
  2. Branch out along your family tree to discover and befriend cousins. If you or your children aren’t familiar with cousins, start today to find and develop relationships. This will be a lasting blessing for all families involved. Social media is a great way to start because it is an easy way to find people, no matter where they live. All you need is one relative to start you in the right direction or link you to others. Share photos, express your love of family and your desire to know each other. My own childhood was greatly enriched because I was close to my cousins and I see the same thing in my children’s lives. I hope they can always be connected to cousins, near or far.
  3. Include siblings or friends without a family support system. My husband’s sisters all live far from us—some on the others side of the country, even on the other side of the world. They also travel a great deal and have made a concerted effort to send my children postcards from various spots around the world. This is a great ritual that is adored by all in our home. We stay connected to family, feel their love for us and learn about what is going on in their lives. Obviously this doesn’t work in all circumstances but it shows that distance is not necessarily an obstacle. Write emails (or even better, letters!) to those far away. Video chat with them online where possible. Remember birthdays (something I have always failed at but keep vowing to be better) and other significant events. Consider making a regular standing appointment with someone who has no siblings or family support, such as a weekly or monthly activity or dinner. Try to put yourself in their shoes and include them the way you would want to be included.
  4. Research your family tree. Each of us has a story and it doesn’t start with our birth. It starts long before we lived—with parents, grandparents, great-grandparents…and so forth. They all have stories about how they were born & lived or died, how they came to live in certain places, what circumstances they endured or enjoyed. Whether we realize it or not each of those stories affect our personal story. How did your family come to live where you do? Where did your ancestors live before and how did they come here? How were they educated, what industries did they work in and what did they learn? How did they pass those lessons on to future generations? There is a remarkable power that comes from knowing who you are and where you come from. Also, because of the internet it is infinitely easier to begin: type “family history” in your favorite browser and see where it leads!

Whether you are single or married, you can support the institution of family in small ways in your daily life, starting today. Choose one to start on and you will find your own life enriched in the process. We are all blessed when we support families.

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