In this month of February, the emphasis is on romantic love – but one form of love that is often overlooked is “Phileo”, brotherly love. This is the kind of love that is common amongst families; kith and kin. Sadly, with the rural-urban drift and modernization, the bond and love that once existed within the extended family structure seems to be weakening, and this is having negative effects on the nuclear family as well. You hear of children who have never met some their aunts and uncles, and the traditional “going home for Christmas” has now faded away for many. There is, however, a lot to be gained by healthy extended family relationships – not just for adults but for their children as well.
I grew up with parents who loved their relatives dearly, so there was always one Cousin, Aunty, Uncle or the other in my home, and we often went visiting relatives as well. I have fond memories of being told stories by my Uncle Livi, who spent his holidays with us back when he was a student at the Federal College Lagos (Ijanikin) as well as going out with Aunty Azuka who lived many years with us. My Aunty Nneka is also a fabulous storyteller, and I was so happy when she came to spend time with me last year and told my children the same stories she told me years ago. She also made us enough pots of soup and nkwobi to last weeks – what’s not to love?! Growing up, my birthdays were always fun because no matter what I was always sure my cousins would come around and my day would totally rock! Holidays were also filled with excitement as our cousins from the North or East would sometimes visit and we got to exchange stories and have loads of fun. Indeed, the support, advice and love I have received from my maternal and paternal Aunts, Uncles, Cousins etc. over the years has been phenomenal, and even though there have been ups and downs, it’s great having people who love you just for who you are.
While a lot of people have decided to keep relatives at arm’s length due to some bad experiences, there are still good people out there and being around them can be very enriching. The honest truth is that knowing and building close relationships with extended family members can improve you and your immediate family’s quality of life. With the right relatives around, you do not need to look far for support for your family – all you need to do is call. Being with relatives can also teach us a lot about grace, acceptance and unconditional love. As Sara Sheridan wisely noted, “It is through our extended family that we first learn to compromise and come to an understanding that even if we don’t always agree about things, we can still love and look out for each other”.
If you are fortunate to have a close-knit extended family, that’s great! But if you are not, here are a few ways to ensure that you have a good relationship with your extended crew.
- Show support: If you come from a large family, there’s always something happening. There are happy occasions like weddings and birthday parties, as well as sad ones like funerals. Whatever the event, try and show support by your presence, a gift or even a phone call. You would be surprised at how far showing support to an extended family member would go in making them feel loved and special. If you have an ill relative in hospital, taking them a meal or even just spending some time with them goes a long way to show you care.
- Communicate: Nothing strengthens family bonds like communication. In this day of Facebook reminders and all sorts of technological aids, it’s easy to remember everyone birthday so that you can send them a message or call on their special day. Religious holidays are also a great opportunity to reach out to relatives. Beyond that, it’s not too much to set aside one day a month to call your loved ones, especially those who at one time or the other played a special role in your life.
- Visits: This is very important, especially for older relatives. There’s a saying that when an old person dies, it’s as if a library burns down, and it’s the truth! With elderly people especially, visits are priceless, as every time spent with them is an opportunity to learn something new about times gone by. Recently, my dear Uncle died at the age of 80. For me, it was much too soon as I would have loved to have his wisdom, guidance, tales and cheerleading around for many more years to come. Now there’s no one left to tell us the stories about our family lineage that only he would know. So my advice is to visit as often as possible. If Christmas doesn’t work, then how about some other holiday period? Or how about a quieter time of year, perhaps during your annual leave? If you’re too scared of your village, how about inviting your older relative to visit you? In 2016, I visited the East with my immediate family, and the excitement of seeing my relatives and of them seeing my offspring was just amazing. I know it’s something we shall do more often. From that trip, I learnt that the time spent visiting with older family members is especially enriching for both parties, and gives an unexplainable feeling of fulfilment and joy.
- Hang out: Now this is the same as visiting really, but I am placing emphasis on the younger generations. For many children, their Cousins are almost like celebrities, and just knowing they’ll get to see them is exciting! Whenever my children know their cousins will be at certain events, it’s like giving them an extra reason to attend, and I’m glad when they get to spend quality time together. This is especially important now that families are getting smaller and smaller. If you live in the same town, then ensure cousins get to hang out and create lifelong bonds that will outlive their parents. Mind you, cousin hangouts, and indeed any visits involving children, should always be supervised by an adult. Nothing should be taken for granted – remember, a large proportion of child abuse is from family members, so always be careful.
- Use wisdom: It’s good to know people for who they are – no one is perfect, and that includes your relatives. So while reaching out, make room for little idiosyncrasies. Not every remark should elicit a response, and some people are just troublesome, so it’s best you take such people in small doses and avoid unnecessary confrontation that could potentially cause major family rifts. Also ensure that you put you and your immediate family first, wisdom is always profitable to direct.
- Give gifts: It doesn’t have to be whole lot or something expensive. It could be just a 4k wrapper sent to your grandmother, a $10 hat for your Uncle in the village, or just a pair of flat slippers that you know your great-aunt with arthritis would appreciate. If you don’t know what to get, then simply send some money, as everyone appreciates a bank alert!
- Use Technology: I know everyone is quite weary of being added to “WhatsApp groups”, but if utilised properly, they can be quite useful in increasing the bonds and love shared by family. Another good idea is a Facebook family group, where family members can share pictures of each other’s holidays and milestones.
- Quality Time: Spending quality time together is essential for creating and maintaining relationships. This is even more important if you live far away from family, in which case a good way to share quality time is planning a family trip or vacation. It doesn’t have to cost a ton, and can be something as simple as a picnic or a trip to a restaurant.
- Enjoy them: Family can truly be “sweet”, so just try your best to enjoy them! P.S. Do you have a close relationship with your extended family? If so, how have you maintained it? If not, why not? Please respond in the comment section and tell us the pros and cons of your current extended family situation.
This post is dedicated to my dear Uncle G.I.C. Nwokedi. Rest in Peace, dear Uncle.