Re-establish the Nucleus of Your Family
I shared with you before that Larry and I dated for an extended period of time (almost nine years!) before we decided to get married and have children. Obviously, things didn’t happen overnight and there were many adjustments along the way.
Our first adjustment was getting used to living with each other. Fortunately we had known each other for so long and knew each other so well that the adjustments were minor. Then came the biggest change in our lives: becoming parents. While it may have taken us a while to get to the altar, truth is we wasted no time in having children.
Our first son, Henry, was born shortly after we got married, followed two-and-a-half years later by the twins, George and Charlie. In three years we went from a family of two to a family of five! This required a lot of adjustments and a conscious effort on both our parts to ensure everyone in our family felt loved and respected.
The birth of our children and becoming parents brought us an immense amount of joy and any adjustments we had to make, we made for the benefit of our family.
Some of the changes we had to make were with respect to creating “family time,” “couples time” for Larry and me, and “one-on-one time” with each of the boys.
Family time could be as simple as all of us walking to the park for a few hours and spending uninterrupted time pushing the boys on the swings, helping them climb the monkey bars or playing tag as they got older and loved to run.
Couples time consisted of anything that involved the two of us without kids! We loved our kids so much, but we recognized parenthood was an all-consuming role and we didn’t want to forget that this family started out with just the two of us.
One-on-one time was precious to the boys, especially when it was time alone with Larry. I could see it on each boy’s face when he came back from an outing with Larry. He would walk in the door standing tall, with his chest puffed out making sure the other two could see what he had in his hand; a slushy, piece of candy, whatever treat Larry let them have. He would act all cool as the other two would say things like, “aww man, dad got you…” Yes, each boy had their moment to brag, it was comical and endearing all at the same time.
And then Larry died. I not only lost my companion in life, but my partner in raising our children.
I felt broken and alone. Very alone.
If I felt this way, I could only imagine how the boys were feeling.
In an instant my family of five became a family of four. The nucleus of our family circle was shattered and it was up to me to try and put the pieces back together. The one person I wanted to talk to and get advice on how to fix our broken family was gone.
I had no idea what to do, the only thing I knew was that it couldn’t be fixed overnight. Just like Larry and I had needed time to adjust to marriage and the birth of each of our children, I would need time for my children and me to recreate the nucleus of our family.
The first step was the hardest. I had to face the reality that Larry was gone and our family of five would never look the same again.
But did that mean we weren’t a family any longer? Absolutely not!
Many families today face the same challenge of re-creating a family unit that has changed with a marriage, birth, divorce, or death. Adult children moving back home and caring for elderly parents in the home is becoming all too common. Each time the dynamics of a family changes, roles need to be re-established, boundaries need to be evaluated, and time needs to be spent developing relationships.
Through individual and group counseling I received guidance and courage to take positive steps to rebuild my family.
I would like to share with you some of the guidance I received and implemented with my family.
Be clear on the new boundaries and expectations:
Originally all of the house “rules” were put into place as a team: mom and dad. After Larry died I had to figure out what rules I wanted to keep and what ones I didn’t. If your children are old enough, engage them in conversation and get their input regarding the establishment of boundaries and expectations. Once you have determined what the boundaries are (bedtime, homework, extra-curricular activities, etc.) sit down with your children and be clear about your expectations. I recommend reevaluating this at least once a year. As children grow, the expectations and responsibilities change as well.
What about adult children living back at home? Or, elderly parents moving in?
Sometimes having adult children move back home is harder than having little ones! But it’s your home, boundaries and expectations need to be established no matter what the age for any family member moving into your home. The purpose is to create a living environment that is as harmonious and peaceful as possible.
Spend time collectively, unplugged, as a family:
One of the gifts Larry left the boys and I was his love of travel, especially road trips! At the time Larry passed away, there was a remarkable family from my children’s school who had plans to spend two nights at a cabin in Greer, Arizona. It’s a beautiful town northeast of Phoenix and offers a quiet, serene get-away. When they heard of our loss, they decided as a family to gift us the fully paid stay in the cabin. I was in awe at their generosity. I saved their gift and used it on the one-year anniversary of Larry’s death.
I piled the kids and two golden retrievers (who had recently joined our family) into the mini-van and took another step towards redefining what our family vacations would look like going forward. On the way to the cabin we reminisced about all the previous road trips we had taken with Larry.
Sharing stories about Larry brought smiles to our faces and laughter filled the car. I never would’ve imagined the year prior that any of us could laugh so easily.
We had taken many steps to heal individually and collectively as a family, and this was one more: a step taken together to mark one the one-year anniversary of Larry’s death and the addition of two more members, Star and Cruiser (pictured above).
We have since taken more road trips, some of the best ones include the dogs. We have laughed, bickered (remember 4 people and 2 good size dogs in one car and one hotel room!) and even shed some tears. All these moments have re-established the nucleus of my immediately family.
Now, here I am, almost nine years after Larry died, and the nucleus of my family has changed again. With Henry off to college, I need to reevaluate all the steps I mentioned above. From minor issues like splitting chores (George and Charlie don’t think this is minor!) to creating family time just for me, George and Charlie. This part is a little harder now that the boys are teenagers, George has his own license to drive and a girlfriend.
I’m doing my best to find moments when it is just the three of us and I can pull out a deck of cards or UNO and tell them it’s family time. I’ll admit it’s a little awkward in the beginning. You don’t realize that impact one person has on a family until they are no longer physically with the family. Family bantering combined with individual personalities makes family time unique, so when a member leaves or joins the family, time is needed to re-establish the ever-changing family nucleus.
As I sit here and write this, I remember the pain I felt each time I looked at a family picture of me, Larry and the boys. I felt my family was forever broken, shattered. But now, I can look at that same picture and smile at Larry and say, “Look what we created!”
While the picture is sure to change again, my love for him and my boys will forever remain the same. This love has given me strength to put the pieces of my family back together. The pieces are different and may not align perfectly, but neither do the pieces in a mosaic picture- and it’s still beautiful.
I pray you will find a way to make your shattered pieces fit together once more.