The Importance of Extended Family
Raising kids in today’s fast-paced, modern-world can be incredibly challenging, tiring, and frustrating. However, one need not look to far into the past to find something that can be an big help: living near the extended family.
Having the larger family around not only lightens parents’ load, but also helps kids feel part of a larger social unit, exposes them to those who have accumulated lifelong wisdom, and can help reinforce a good value system.
Living with an Extended Family
Living far apart from one’s family of origin is the norm for most people I know and could very well be the case for you.
However, my living situation is a bit different and that may give me a slightly different perspective on these things compared to most westerners. This is due to the fact that my wife is Southeast Asian and that has changed some of the norms I live by or accept as what is expected.
After our boys were born, my wife’s parents lived with us. This helped immensely as you can imagine. From changing diapers to rocking the boys to sleep, to helping to cook and clean, they really gave us a helping hand. They continued to live with us until recently, when they moved out of our place and into my sister-in-law’s house. She lives only three blocks from us.
And then there’s my brother-in-law and his wife. They have three kids and live only two blocks from us.
Because of this situation, we have family members constantly traveling between the three houses.
This isn’t always amazing I admit, since I do value my own space, but we’ve worked out a pretty nice balance and it all works. Most of the time our house is just for our nuclear family, but at certain times the others drop by for various reasons.
Unsurprisingly, the family members help each other quite a bit and this really can smooth out life’s bumps.
Helping Each Other Out
For instance, every now and again both my brother-in-law and his wife are work in the morning they so can’t take their daughter to school. So I drop her off.
My mother-in-law cooks daily for at least two of the houses and also watches my brother-in-laws’ kids during the day. My father-in-law helps her out until the early afternoon when he typically runs out of steam and heads back over to my sister-in-law’s house for his afternoon nap (and a much needed quiet time away from my brother-in-law’s small kids).
My sister-in-law routinely drops by with baked goods for our boys, which they appreciate immensely. She also comes by on Sundays to play board and card games with myself, my wife, and our two boys.
My brother-in-law’s kids drop by a couple of times a week. This has the effect of creating a band of five small marauders roaming the house. Of course it gets loud, but I think its great since they get to entertain each other in free-play fashion – something that is in very short supply in today’s digital-entertainment-saturated world.
And the list of interactions between us all goes on and on.
In-laws Living Near Me? No Thanks!
Many westerners reading this may think it sounds great, but may also get a nagging feeling in the back of their mind that it may all be a bit too close for comfort.
I get it – as I mentioned I’ve been there more than a few times myself. But on the whole, the situation has many more advantages than disadvantages. You “just” have to be open and honest with what everyone wants, is comfortable with and work things out.
Nuclear Family-Only Situations Can be Tough and It’s Getting Tougher
As time has progressed in western societies, the deficiencies of the standalone nuclear family have really started to show.
With both adults needing to work, many kids now have to be dropped off in the early morning, only to be picked up late at night. Parents have much less quality time with kids because of this – the little bits of time available are typically consumed with homework and times when the parents are physically and emotionally exhausted from a long day at work.
Dinner may have to be picked many nights since who has time for cooking? Eating out can add up to quite a bit over the long term, not to mention many restaurants cook with ingredients of questionable quality.
Reintroducing Extended Families to the West
I think westerners need to take a hard look at going back to the concept of living near extended family.
From the dawn of Man (and Woman) up until the 20th century, living with the extended family was standard, expected, normal way that humans lived. And it’s actually the way that many people in non-western countries live today.
It doesn’t just make sense from a distribution of labor standpoint either – it allows our kids to be around individuals whose value systems we agree with. The passing on of values, traditions, and wisdom is priceless and is one of those things that can only be done by family.
Living near and regularly interacting with extended family also sends kids the important message that family means people who can count on one another for life. Blood is thicker than water.
So the next time you’re frustrated by not having enough time to run your kid to the doctor, or the low amounts or quality of time you get at night with them, take a look at where your own parents and siblings are living. You may want to consider a longer-term plan of moving nearer – it can really strengthen your bond with your family of origin and your kids will take away lifelong lessons.