Lessons to Be Learned From a Family’s Dynamic
Both of my parents are one of seven when it comes to their sibling count, which means I have the pleasure of having a diverse group of aunts, uncles and cousins fill up my life. Ever since I was a young, my aunts and uncles represented more than just family. They symbolized a unique sense of togetherness all bottled up with vibrant personalities, colorful opinions and contagious senses of humors that could challenge any stand up comedian. It is their laughter, inside jokes and charismatic story telling that I enjoy most about my aunts and uncles. They can tell a story as if you were actually there, painting a scenario and scene like crafted wordsmiths, executing the right tone and timing perfectly. As the first grandson and one of the oldest nephews of the bunch, I’ve tried to do my best to have a strong connection with my relatives. Whether that meant spending summers together at the Jersey shore, going on road trips, or working at one of their companies – I loved being around them and creating memories together.
As this holiday season (and my May 2019 wedding!) quickly approaches, I took time to reflect on my relationships with my relatives and all the lessons I’ve learned from them over the years. Creating a wedding invite list makes you think long and hard about the family members that have supported you every step of the way. From my early years of being in the closet, to the fight for marriage equality, to the first time I brought my fiancé, Nick home to meet everyone. Our wedding is 11 years in the making and the love we get from our family members makes our wedding so much more meaningful. I say that with joy but also with a dose of reality knowing that there are still families out there that do not support their LGBT nephews and nieces. When Nick and I say our vows in front of all our family members, we want them to know how grateful we are for their endless support.
With that said, it is important that everyone reading this article understands that there is no such thing as a perfect family. Like any family dynamic there will always be fantastic highs and frustrating lows. What we all learn through those moments are what I believe is significant. If everyone just takes a second to pause and puts the bigger picture into focus, than I think there can be even more unity within a family. The tools to get there involve perspective, understanding, and being mindful of the generational change.
I had the honor to become an uncle years ago. Perhaps, there are some of you that hold an “aunt” or “uncle” title as well. When my two nieces were born, I vowed to truly be the best uncle I could possibly be. That meant acting as a motivator, teacher, supporter, and the best Lego builder the world has ever seen. It also put my relationship with my own aunts and uncles into perspective. I was now taking on a role that they had provided to me. One of my biggest takeaways with being an uncle is that kids soak up every word. They have the ability to remember what you said, when you said it, and hold you accountable at the same time. Your words matter to them. When I am around my nieces, I strive to engage them in creative ways or story telling that makes them think. I want to them grow up in a world where they feel determined to use their minds and have a voice. This is something that my aunts and uncles encouraged in me as well. They would constantly tell me to speak up, work hard and be confident. Yes, everything actually does come full circle.
When I entered my teen years, I started to ask more questions about my family’s history, how my parents and relatives were raised, and understand what their life experiences were like growing up. Some things I knew, while others left me wondering more. I wanted to know the reasoning behind certain events and why specific behaviors were a common family trend. Asking questions can often be uncomfortable for people, but there is nothing wrong if your intent is for something positive to come out of it like – understanding. Are you familiar with that quote, “you only know what you know?” Well, in order to have understanding, you must have awareness. When you have both, you can then start to connect some dots. Those dots can often lead to peace and unity.
The Generational Change
Last month, I went to visit my cousin and his wife who have two children together. I remember walking into their house for the first time and thinking how crazy it was to see him with a newborn and a small toddler at his feet. I mean, I use to babysit him and now he has babies. How many of you have gone through a moment like this when you start to see your younger generation of cousins having their own kids? I could not help but wonder what our aunts and uncles must think. I say that with love, because if I am feeling the shift in the rise of the next family generation, they must be feeling the change even more. Part of this probably has to do with the obvious, they are getting older, but another important element is their own identities have evolved into new roles and responsibilities. Their children are now having children and their titles of “aunt” and “uncle” are now being upgraded to “grandparents.” For others, their children have either left their nest or they are on the road to retirement. Now, by no means are my aunts and uncles losing steam, but eventually it is our duty as the younger generation to step in and carry on traditions and the energy that our family is known for. That includes hosting gatherings, getting together for special events and supporting each other through all our ups and downs. When my grandma, who we all call “Nan,” does pass away, I want her to know the family love and unity she holds at her core will carry on from generation to generation.
I hope this article made you think about your own life and the relatives that supported you along the way. Life has a tendency to feel overwhelming this time of the year. But, I encourage you to do your part and make an extra effort to be kind to your relatives and show them some gratitude. I have a feeling it would mean the world to them and bring a sense of holiday goodness to your heart as well.
Matt Jacobi is a writer and has been a voice of truth on various world topics such as women’s rights, religion, mental health, bullying and equality. His current mission is to get more men to stand with women so that they can work together to make equality more of a reality. Jacobi was inspired to be an advocate for women’s rights since the birth of his two nieces. He vowed to bring light to the topic of female empowerment, so they could grow up in a world that is filled with equal opportunity and rights that support them to be leaders, bosses, and – yes, fighters. Freedom fighters, equality fighters, and human rights fighters.
This essay was featured in the Dec. 9th edition of The Sunday Paper, Maria Shriver’s free weekly newsletter for people with passion and purpose. To get inspiring and informative content like this piece delivered straight to your inbox each Sunday morning, click here to subscribe.