“Heather, you love your family more than any white girl I’ve ever met.” – Friend and former coworker
This is one of the greatest compliments which I have ever received. Yes, I do love my family and I believe keeping in touch with family is worth some financial and time investment.
Before I left for college, I took tons of pictures and put together a photo album I affectionately referred to as my ‘cry book.’ The thought of leaving so many loved ones behind in North Carolina seemed gut-wrenching at the time. So much so that I could never have dreamed I would lose touch with so many of them!
It was not until I had an unpleasant exchange with a close friend years later that I realized how much I dropped the ball after I moved. Facebook gave me a sense of connectedness; but, in reality, all I was doing was reading about the people with whom I should have been connecting. When I lost my godfather last May, it occurred to me how unwise it is to put off family visits, calls, and connections.
I knew Charles (my godfather) loved me, and I hope he knew that I loved him; but, it had been about four years since I had seen him face-to-face. In fact, he ran into my mom in Walmart and told her to tell me that he loved me. That was a few months before his passing, and I treasure it even though he was not able to say it to me in person.
Since then, my life and perspective have changed. Take nothing for granted… especially family.
What is Your Sweetie Willing to Invest in Family?
Do not neglect to discuss your expectations and desires as it relates to family relationships. After you are married, do you expect to visit out-of-city (or out-of-state) family several times a year? What are your thoughts on caring for aging parents? Do you want them to live with you? Live in a facility? Hire a nurse? How will you spend holidays? What will you do if parents, siblings, or cousins ask for money? How much time, money, and energy are each of you willing to spend on your family? Please do not get married without talking about this topic out thoroughly, and, if possible, observe his or her family dynamic.
If your new bride or groom expects to see family weekly, and you would be happier with a less frequent schedule, conflicts will arise – maybe not so many in the beginning of the marriage, but most definitely as the years roll by. Family relationships are important and living your life with someone who places a different value on family will drain you both. You may even begin to feel resentful for constantly having to choose between your spouse and family-of-origin – or resentful that your spouse frequently chooses time with family over time with you.
Also, Be Careful to Invest in Each Other
When I was a newlywed, one of my more mature co-workers told me not to feel obligated to visit family on every vacation. Growing up within miles of all my family members, I did not understand the struggle of choosing between a vacation and visiting family. With Eric’s family being scattered throughout the western US and my family living in another state, it is rare that we take a trip that does not involve seeing family. However, we have purposely chosen to take a handful of trips that are only about us, and we are getting better at planning us time even on those family-visit trips. It is possible to invest in family time and continue to do couples’ adventures throughout the years.
The Denver Hub
Thankfully, many of our family and friends live in or near Denver; so, when Eric had a business trip there this past April, it was a wonderful opportunity to visit family while saving some money (as his company flew him out and put him/us up in a hotel for half of our stay)! In our week there, we were able to visit Eric’s nephews, his brother, his cousin and her family (whom I had never met), and our college friend and her family. We know we are blessed to have so many special people living in one spot!
When Eric mentioned the business trip to Denver, I waffled back and forth in my mind.
(It is a lot of money. I hate airports. Should I do something else with the week Eric is gone?)
But, no matter what thought crossed my mind, I kept going back to the idea of regret. How much I would regret missing a chance to see my nephews. What a loss it would be to miss out on time with my brother-in-law. How great it would be to finally meet our college friend’s children.
As a child, I was spoiled by living within thirty minutes of everyone I loved. Now that I have loved ones scattered everywhere, it is worth some money, a few bottles of Dramamine, and some jetlag to get to see them.
Eric and I are sure to broach the topic of extended family with our clients because we know how differently we approached family relationships when we got married. Growing up, Eric saw his grandparents once a year; I saw mine anywhere from once a week to six days a week. Eric rarely saw his cousins; my cousins and I had sleepovers and built forts in Granny and Granddaddy’s living room. Eric placed a higher value on church family than I did (perhaps because my family all went to the same church ~smile~). And with those different experiences comes different value placed on extended family.
We have experienced some conflict regarding our different approaches to family, so we want our couples to hash their feelings out before their march to the altar. In marriage, there has to be a healthy balance between pushing family aside and bringing family into your life. Spouses should always come first, but extended family should hold a special place too (except where toxic relationships are present). It is imperative that you and your significant other agree on what role extended family should play prior to joining your lives.
A Few Significant Questions to Ask Each Other:
- Will your kids call people who are technically not blood relatives by familial names such as nana, papa, aunt, or uncle?
- What financial sacrifices are you willing to make to invest in family relationships?
- How will you address family problems? (e.g., family tension, unrealistic expectations, etc.) Create some scenarios and discuss.
Time to Chat!
Thankfully, Eric has been mostly gracious towards me in my desire to stay connected to my family. Though, if he tried to keep me from my loved ones, it would cause us significant marital problems. You and your sweetheart probably do not share the exact same views on family ties, but are your views compatible and realistic? Can you live with each other’s expectations of family involvement? As much as you can, find out now.
And, please, please, please, please, please do not hold back your opinions until after the wedding. Do not wait until the Tuesday after your honeymoon to say, “Oh yeah, my family has taco Tuesday night every week and I told them we would come!” Or pretend to be happy with your living arrangements, only to demand to move closer to your parents after you are married. If you avoid these conversations now, your new bride or groom is likely to feel betrayed or hoodwinked.
“But, what if I am honest about my expectations and my fiancée will not marry me?”
How would you feel if you got married and realized your new spouse lied to you? Holding back on these topics is lying to your significant other by omission. And, if your desires are so different, would getting married be best for either of you?
We want our client couples and readers to enjoy a teammate marriage. We want you all to have the joy of doing life with your future spouses instead of playing perpetual tug of war. We want your children to enjoy harmonious family relationships.
Time with family is one of those top ten topics to discuss before engagement. Right up there with religion and money! Are you both ready to invest the same amount?
How much are you and your sweetie willing to invest in family relationships?