Friday, December 30, 2005

The Power Of Extended Family

On my oft-discussed trip to my parents, my sister has become my son's best friend. My son has the occasionally misfortunate position of being my only child. While I loved being myself as a child, I realize that everyone does not share my love for being alone. Sometimes my son needs a playmate.

My sister is a teenager. She is old enough to take care of my son while still being willing to play with him. Plus, like many teen girls, she thinks that babies are cute. And he is, after all, still my little baby.

I am glad that my son has decided that he loves my sister. He now smiles and heads for her when she comes in the door. I am glad that all of my family is here to be with my son, to show him that they love him and that they want to be part of his life.

I spent some time in college reading about the statistics on single-parent families. Having been very well-behaved and an exceptional student, I was shocked when people assumed the worst because I had a single mother. What I found was that reports about the research are pretty distorted. Having a single parent is not enough to increase rates of criminality or teen pregnancy or any of the other ills we want to keep from our children. Instead it is the absence of more than one attentive parent, which is why those rates are just as high in families with stay-at-home moms and corporate dads.

So what I discovered was that children who are from single-parent homes and thrive tended to have extended family around them. If a child knows that more people are invested in his or her well-being, then that child is likely to do well.

I am happy that I had such love and support from a very large extended family, and I am happy that those feelings will extend to my son. While my family does not understand it, I do get sad that my baby is not experiencing all of the things that I did.

Babies need the love of people who are not their parents, and my son has found that not only in my sister, but in my entire family. The wonderful part about extended families is that they are willing to help out when needed.

Many people seem to shy away from their extended families offering help because they fear that the help comes with strings attached, such as some sort of say in how a child is raised. The truth is that in most cases, that may be true. The grandparents, aunts, and uncles who give up part of their time to help with Junior want to know that he is being raised as they think he should. That give and take is part of being in an extended family, and anytime I get upset about it, I remind myself that my family raised me - the whole village of them.

My grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins were involved in my life from the time I was born until…well, until now. They are still involved. They still feel free to comment on what is going on in my life, and anytime my husband, who came from a different type of family, complains, I tell him that I would not be who I am without the assistance and input of multiple family members.

Depriving your child of knowing his or her extended family should be a last resort that you consider only if there is abuse or extreme cases of disagreement between Mom and Dad and the extended family in terms of child-rearing philosophy. In most cases, however, a baby will be happier and will feel more loved by being part of a huge network of people who genuinely care about his or her life and how it turns out.

Experiencing that love now is something that will stay with your child always. Your child will go into the world, even if that world is only as large as her kindergarten classroom, knowing that there are people out there who care. Your baby can begin learning now about healthy self-esteem and the value of a good family.

By Julia Mercer

No comments: