Many older families today operate with a lone matriarch that holds things together, since women continue to handily outlive men. And with larger families 2 or more generations ago, many now have sole surviving elderly aunts, great great grandmothers or other reigning queen bees at the helm. The real value of these large extended families was that they 1) tended to cluster together in packs and 2) they espoused family values. Today we have smaller families, more far flung members, and family values are not as dear.
When the queen mother of that other era succumbs, often a sad thing happens – the underlying generation is lost to the extended family. This happened to my sister and me, as when our older parents passed (our adopted parents were 2 generations older than us) we were all but forgotten by the rest of the clan. The communication link protected by that generation was broken and there was no one and no interest to rekindle the flame. We really have felt like adult orphans over the past 15 years with virtually no outside family contact.
This scenario replays itself over and over again, as more of that mighty WWII generation, the greatest generation according to Tom Brokaw, continues to dwindle in numbers. But weren’t they prolific! And now the 2nd, 3rd and 4th generations beneath them are left with distant cousins who they not only don’t know, but don’t really care to know.
When family ties fray and break, we lose a valuable communication chain that is unique and irreplaceable. The ‘kissing cousins’ of yesteryear are practically an anomaly today; my kids care little for their direct paternal 2nd cousins, or for their 1st cousins once removed. (And just when I got the ‘once removed’ idea fully understood, it becomes archaic!)
I mourn (well, truthfully mourn is probably too strong a term for it), I lament the smallness of the family they are happy to settle for, the richness that the layering of a large close knit family can provide, the interesting relationships that multiple generations across multiple descendents can imbue a family. Our mobile society today tends to be more black sheep and less flock oriented.
“Where are you from?” is a usual question, because the answers and accents are so varied. “What brought you here?” is another kettle of fish. What’s interesting is how many people are happily far from ‘home’ and out on their own, without regret or remorse. America’s independent spirit is alive and well. But her communication is unfortunately not as strong.
COMMUNICATION TAKEAWAY: Family communication is often different than ‘regular’ communication. Not necessarily better – we often treat strangers better than we treat those we love. It’s just so much easier to abuse, neglect, and take for granted those that are nearby. “It’s only so-and-so – she’s OK with it, she’s family.” We love them because we ‘have’ to, but do we really LIKE them? Really, all of them? Today’s generation recognizes that they actually don’t have to; they exercise choice.