Embracing Our Extended Family

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Welcome to the May 2012 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Parenting With or Without Extended Family

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have shared how relatives help or hinder their parenting. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.


Deb's parents with their kids, kids-in-law, grandkids, grandkids-in-law, and great-grandkids, 2010.

Deb's parents with their kids, kids-in-law, grandkids, grandkids-in-law, and great-grandkids, 2010.

My family is lucky. Our extended family is wonderful. Of course, that makes it all the more difficult that our relatives don’t live nearby. We miss them. We always lived in another state from my husband’s relatives. And my husband, Terry, and I lived a few hours away from my parents when we were first married and when our kids were little. Now, we live a few states away.

Priceless Relationships with Our Extended Family

Even though we haven’t been able to see our extended family as often as we’d like, we remain close in spirit. Our now-adult kids always cherished spending time with their grandparents and are still very close to their living grandparents.

While my kids couldn’t have the same type of relationships with their cousins that I did by growing up in the same community with mine, they still have very close relationships with many members of our extended family. My kids always look forward to seeing their grandparents and any members of our extended family. They even spontaneously give their grandparents a phone call every now and then.

Will and Christina have visited great-aunts and had them visit in various places around the world. They loved visiting their Great-Great Aunt Helia, who lived to almost 100. Will, Chea (Will’s wife), Christina, and Tom (Christina’s husband) have fun meeting up with relatives who visit San Diego. I’m happy our family relationships have allowed our adult children to feel so close to their extended family.

While some families have difficulties that don’t allow them to maintain close relationships, I really recommend embracing your extended family if you can. Even though we’ve had to nurture long-distance relationships, the relationships with our extended family have been priceless.

What We’ve Done to Embrace Our Extended Family

1. Even though my parents, siblings, and I had different diets and different methods of child raising, we always accepted each other’s views. There were no debates or arguments. The love and relationships were simply more important than wanting to be “right.” My parents are some of the most accepting people in the world, so that probably had a lot to do with our attitudes. And Terry and I had a similar relationship with his side of the family. Here’s a post about our extended family and our diets: ”Happy Families Can Have More Than One Diet.”

Will's first plane trip to visit relatives in Milwaukee at 3 months, 1985.

Will's first plane trip to visit relatives in Milwaukee at 3 months, 1985.

2. Terry and I took our kids with us on trips from the time they were babies. Will and Christina became excellent travelers. Trips to visit relatives were fun road trips or plane trips that we typically combined with educational and recreational activities in the area (Milwaukee – and Chicago – for Terry’s side of the family and eastern South Dakota for mine). ”Should You Use Unit Studies?” and “Little House on the Prairie Unit Study” show a couple of examples of our homeschooling combined with trips to visit grandparents.

3. My kids had special activities with their grandparents that Terry and I didn’t worry about philosophically. My kids are lifelong vegetarians who are happy to go fishing with their grandpa. My daughter, Christina, was the only granddaughter on Terry’s side. Her paternal grandmother loved dolls and collected Barbie dolls. Christina was given gifts of Barbies way sooner than I would have allowed her to have them otherwise. But those dolls (and the many other dolls her grandma gave her as gifts) were an important connection Christina and her grandma shared.

4. We were grateful for the special gifts of experiences and learning that relatives could give. Christina and her paternal grandmother did girly things together that made them both happy, such as the time her grandma studied and then created the special wrapped braid Christina wanted. I was never as talented at fixing hair, so that was a special gift for all of us.

Christina (9) wearing her wrapped braid and Will (14) with their grandma and cousin Tim, 1999.

Christina (9) wearing her wrapped braid and Will (14) with their grandma and cousin Tim, 1999.

My parents played an important role in helping my children experience gardening, which I talked about in my post “Exploring Nature and Growing Plants without a Garden”. I wrote a guest post at A Nation of Moms called “Dads Can Help with Child-Led Learning” in which I also talked about how my kids’ grandpa, as well as their dad, was an important part of their homeschooling.

5. We had fun finding different places to meet up with our extended family. My parents typically traveled to whichever city held the national figure-skating championships to visit us and cheer on our kids, starting with Will and Christina’s first Junior Olympics (now called Junior Nationals) in Pittsburgh in March of 1999.

Beth and Christina at the Dortmund, Germany, Christmas Market, 2009.

Beth and Christina at the Dortmund, Germany, Christmas Market, 2009.

As adults, both my kids were joined at some international figure skating competitions by their world-traveling Great Aunt Beth. Beth met up with Will at competitions in Serbia and Estonia and in Germany for Christina. She was even Christina’s chaperone to a skating festival/competition in North Korea. Note: Beth is only 11 months older than me, so she’s not as old as great-aunt sounds. 😉

My “Don’t Forget Family” post at Raising Figure Skaters tells more about including extended family in sports events. And, of course, we all had a wonderful time meeting up in England for Christina and Tom’s wedding!

Christina with her immediate family and grandparents and Tom with his immediate family and grandmother at Hazelwood Castle in England, 2009.

Christina with her immediate family and grandparents and Tom with his immediate family and grandmother at Hazelwood Castle in England, 2009.

6. Internet, cell phones, and Skype play important roles in our lives. Unfortunately, we didn’t have Skype to communicate with grandparents when our kids were little. Fortunately, that will be different when Terry and I are grandparents. Terry and I talk with our kids and extended family members most often via cell phone, e-mail, e-greeting, and Facebook (and occasional snail mail), but we do communicate with our kids by Skype sometimes, too.

We saw our new Grandkitties (as in kittens!) – Will and Chea’s and Christina and Tom’s – the first day via Skype! And Christina and Tom often talk with Tom’s family in England via Skype. I have more about Skype in my post “Creating Memories Together on Skype.” I’m truly grateful for the role technology has played in helping us embrace our extended family.

7. We remember the value of hugging and saying “I love you.” With our closest relatives we say “I love you” A LOT. And a lot of hugging goes on when we get together with our extended family. My daughter, Christina, gives her ideas on sharing love with family in a Thanksgiving post she wrote last year called “8 Ways to Give Thanks for Family.”

I’d love to hear how you keep in touch with your extended family! 🙂


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

  • Dealing With Unsupportive Grandparents — In a guest post at Natural Parents Network, The Pistachio Project tells what to do when your child’s grandparents are less than thrilled about your parenting choices.
  • Parenting With Extended Family — Jenny at I’m a full-time mummy shares the pros and cons of parenting with extended family…
  • Parental Support for an AP Mama — Meegs at A New Day talks about the invaluable support of her parents in her journey to be an AP mama.
  • Priceless GrandparentsThat Mama Gretchen reflects on her relationship with her priceless Grammy while sharing ways to help children preserve memories of their own special grandparents.
  • Routines Are Meant To Be Broken — Olga at Around The Birthing Ball urges us to see Extended Family as a crucial and necessary link between what children are used to at home and the world at large.
  • It Helps To Have A Village – Even A Small One — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama discusses how she has flourished as a mother due to the support of her parents.
  • The Orange Week — Erika at Cinco de Mommy lets go of some rules when her family finally visits extended family in San Diego.
  • One Size Doesn’t Fit All — Kellie at Our Mindful Life realizes that when it comes to family, some like it bigger and some like it smaller.
  • It Takes a Family — Alicia at What’s Next can’t imagine raising a child without the help of her family.
  • A new foray into family — As someone who never experienced close extended family, Lauren at Hobo Mama wrestles with how to raise her kids — and herself — to restart that type of community.
  • My Mama Rocks! — Kat at Loving {Almost} Every Moment is one lucky Mama to have the support and presence of her own awesome Mama.
  • Embracing Our Extended Family — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now shares 7 ideas for nurturing relationships with extended family members.
  • Doing Things Differently — Valerie at Momma in Progress shares how parenting her children far away from extended family improved her confidence in her choices.
  • Snapshots of love — Caroline at stoneageparent describes the joys of sharing her young son’s life with her own parents.
  • Parenting with Relies – A mixed bagUrsula Ciller shares some of her viewpoints on the pros and cons of parenting with relatives and extended family.
  • Tante and Uncles — How a great adult sibling relationship begets a great relationship with aunt and uncles from Jennifer at True Confessions of a Real Mommy.
  • Tips for Traveling With Twins — Megan at the Boho Mama shares some tips for traveling with infant twins (or two or more babies!).
  • Parenting passed through the generations — Shannon at Pineapples & Artichokes talks about the incredible parenting resource that is her found family, and how she hopes to continue the trend.
  • My Family and My Kids — Jorje of Momma Jorje ponders whether she distrusts her family or if she is simply a control freak.
  • Parenting with a Hero — Rachel at Lautaret Bohemiet reminisces about the relationship she shared with her younger brother, and how he now shares that closeness in a relationship with her son.
  • Text/ended Family — Kenna of A Million Tiny Things wishes her family was around for the Easter egg hunt… until she remembers what it’s actually like having her family around.
  • Two Kinds of Families — Adrienne at Mommying My Way writes about how her extended family is just as valuable to her mommying as her church family.
  • My ‘high-needs’ child and ‘strangers’ — With a ‘high-needs’ daughter, aNonyMous at Radical Ramblings has had to manage without the help of family or friends, adapting to her daughter’s extreme shyness and allowing her to socialise on her own terms.
  • Our Summer Tribe — Justine at The Lone Home Ranger shares a love of her family’s summer reunion, her secret to getting the wisdom of the “village” even as she lives 1,000 miles away.
  • My Life Boat {Well, One of Them} — What good is a life boat if you don’t get it? Grandparents are a life boat MomeeeZen loves!
  • Dear Children — In an open letter to her children, Laura at Pug in the Kitchen promises to support them as needed in her early days of parenting.
  • Yearning for Tribal Times — Ever had one of those days where everything seems to keep going wrong? Amy at Anktangle recounts one such day and how it inspired her to think about what life must’ve been like when we lived together in large family units.
  • I don’t have a village — Jessica Claire at Crunchy-Chewy Mama wishes she had family nearby but appreciates their support and respect.
  • Trouble With MILs– Ourselves? — Jaye Anne at Wide Awake Half Asleep explains how her arguments with her mother-in-law may have something to do with herself.
  • A Family Apart — Melissa at Vibrant Wanderings writes about the challenges, and the benefits, of building a family apart from relatives.
  • First Do No Harm — Zoie at TouchstoneZ asks: How do you write about making different parenting choices than your own family experience without criticizing your parents?
  • Military Family SeparationAmy Willa shares her feelings about being separated from extended family during her military family journey.
  • Forging A Village In The Absence Of One — Luschka from Diary of a First Child writes about the importance of creating a support network, a village, when family isn’t an option.
  • Respecting My Sister’s Parenting Decisions — Dionna at Code Name: Mama‘s sister is guest posting on the many roles she has as an aunt. The most important? She is the named guardian, and she takes that role seriously.
  • Multi-Generational Living: An Exercise in Love, Patience, and Co-Parenting — Boomerang Mama at The Other Baby Book shares her experience of moving back in with Mom and Dad for 7 months, and the unexpected connection that followed.
  • A Heartfelt Letter to Family: Yes, We’re Weird, but Please Respect Us Anyway — Sheila of A Living Family sincerely expresses ways she would appreciate her extended family’s support for her and her children, despite their “weird” parenting choices.
  • The nuclear family is insane! — Terri at Child of the Nature Isle is grateful for family support, wishes her Mum lived closer, and feels an intentional community would be the ideal way to raise her children.


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