What we know as the definition of the traditional family has largely centered around age and life cycle functions for hundreds of years. Couples are married, bear and raise children, launch them into the world, spend a few golden years together; and then ultimately, their earthly ties are broken by physical death. You can also add economic motivators and functions into the mix as being positive outcomes of strong families. Finally, and only fairly recently, has the concept of romantic love begun to play a role (some would say the most important role) in the formation of a family. Throughout history, matches have been made with the hope that love, admiration and loyalty would follow… and in many instances that became the case, but not always.
With this history in mind, I wanted to write this month about the evolution of a family… on a microlevel. August’s tenet says, “We greatly value the contributing roles of family.” I have had a lot of time to think about my family and our relationships since we went into quarantine for COVID-19 in the middle of March. I consider myself lucky to be alive in the age of love matches and personal choice; I picked my spouse, and between the two of us, we have been able to decide when and how to have our children and how we want to raise them. I think I appreciated that to an extent before life came to a halt, but I now recognize how quickly the “lives we build” get surrendered to people, organizations, and activities that may not have been part of our original plan. Outside influences encourage growth, development and diversity. They help to enrich our lives and help us to discover our passions. In short, they are critical to the human experience. But what I have learned recently is that it has become way too easy for me to miss or ignore behaviors or actions in my family that feel hard or painful. Often when I have needed support, I have turned to my girlfriends, as have my daughters. My son finds solace in video games with friends, and my husband channels his frustrations and insecurities into work. None of this really comes as a surprise to me, but because I wasn’t physically seeing it play out in my everyday life, it was easy to push it to the sidelines.
If you would have asked me to define my family pre-COVID, I would have said: “Husband who travels three weeks of every month, married daughter and son-in-law who are working and going to school. High stress, but driven, hard-working, high school senior daughter who is constantly on the lookout for social encounters without family. Burgeoning teen lothario who is learning to navigate the “adult” world and trying to figure out how to read and understand what girls want. Finally, the caboose who loves nothing more than to run around the neighborhood playing with as many friends as possible. And me… the mom who is glad that everyone else is busy enough with their own lives that I don’t have to worry about entertaining them or spending ALL my time with them. After 20 years, I was starting to feel like I finally had some time for myself.
All of that came to a screeching halt on March 13. My husband’s travel stopped, and we’ve spent over 100 nights IN A ROW together. My married daughter lost her job in a local preschool, my son-in-law who works at one of the best hospitals in our state began preparing for the wave of COVID cases that they promised was coming. The Senior Class of 2020 observed the epic absence of every rite of passage they had been anticipating for years. The teenage son was all alone in a dark basement with his Xbox and my youngest had no friends to play with. Life has been rough, but like a light shining through darkness, after some time I began to observe a few changes.
Because my husband is home, he has been able to help coach my son on the high school mountain bike team; likely the only high school sport NOT CANCELLED! It has been a great thing for both of them. On patriotic holidays, the young men in our neighborhood traditionally meet to place flags in the yards of all our neighbors. Since they can’t do it in the traditional way because of social distancing restrictions, my older son has let his younger brother help him with his portion of the assignment. My youngest is bursting with pride that he gets to help his big brother. We held our own private graduation exercise for our senior daughter where she got to sing to us (fulfilling her heart’s desire) and all of us wrote her letters about our feelings and hopes for her; that wouldn’t have happened under normal circumstances. The family worked together to rehab our old chicken coop and we have acquired and are enjoying raising our flock of 13 hens! My girls have spent time together baking and giving younger cousins mani/pedis. We have all enjoyed playing the piano more; the violin and guitar have made appearances as well. Our backyard has never looked better, and we are eating dinner together as a family… AT THE TABLE. We have all become way too comfortable in our stretchy pants.
However, I think the biggest blessing in all of this is that we are once again turning toward each other–not only in times of trouble, but in times of celebration and happiness. As I write this, all seven of us are piled into a rented motorhome driving toward Mount Rushmore. It’s a trip I’ve wanted to take for a long time, but the idea of being stuck together in a car for that long has always been a “no-go” for my family. Thanks to our shift in viewpoint, the kids are playing games, I’m writing, and my husband is navigating switchbacks while eating Cheetos. Detours and all, life with my family is proving to be a grand adventure.