Why Extended Family Matters

Why Extended Family MattersI live next door to my sister, and our children are literally growing up like brothers and sisters. Even our backyards are fenced in together. The bond between our families is incredibly close simply because of the amount of time we spend with together. My children call her their “second mommy” and that doesn’t bother me a bit! That just shows me how loved and accepted they feel by her.

Have you ever told your children: “When you go to the store with so-and-so, make sure you don’t ask for anything—it’s not polite.” I remind my kids all the time. But, not when it comes to my sister. She’s different because she’s part of the family, which makes her a special case. Now, you might think that it’s still rude, but for us it is simply an acknowledgement of that special connection with an extended family member. My kids can ask her for a candy bar or quarter for the vending machine, just like they’d ask me.

This past Easter we went on vacation and stayed in a large suite together. On Easter morning all the cousins woke up for an Easter Egg hunt, but to their surprise each egg had two or three puzzle pieces inside instead of candy. At first, they weren’t sure what was going on, but then one of them got an egg with a puzzle piece that had a face and they realized this was a puzzle of them. They loved putting together the puzzle of this past year’s “cousins” family Christmas photo. It was a great way to celebrate their very special relationship.

Family connections like these are important to every child, but perhaps even more so for kids who are growing up in a single family home. Feeling strongly connected to an extended family will help your child feel more secure, loved and accepted. It will give them the sense of being part of something with deep, lasting roots—generations of people who maintain relationships over many years.

Also, extended family members often take on very significant roles in our children’s lives. For example, a child living with a single mom can sometimes greatly benefit from a strong relationship with an uncle or grandfather. And, a child from any home needs trusted aunts and uncles they can go to for advice during their turbulent teenage years.

Healthy, positive relationships with extended family will increase your child’s self-esteem because they’ll come to understand that they belong. All children, no matter what their nuclear family looks like, need to have that place where they are unconditionally accepted and loved.

We all instinctively know the value of going fishing with grandpa, cooking with Auntie, and of course playing with cousins—biking, sleepovers, playing in the backyard, and going on vacation together. These experiences nurture our children and make them feel part of more than their nuclear family, but a larger extended family.

If you are like many single moms, your extended family probably already plays an important role in your children’s lives. Often grandparents, aunts and uncles make up an invaluable support system for single moms by providing childcare, help with errands, and advice. When extended family plays this supportive role in your child’s life, very often these nurturing relationships are formed organically.

If your children do not have close, nurturing relationships with extended family, begin to cultivate them by planning fun activities together, going on vacation together, and taking family pictures. Let your kids grow up knowing they are part of an exclusive and special club that always sticks together and accepts each other unconditionally—their family.

Written by Sara Stringer

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