Y’all ever think about the days when families all lived in the same town, on the same street, and sometimes all in the gosh-darn same house? I’m thinkin’ back to the early 1900s here, although for some of y’all this is still true today. In fact, 26% of Black households are multigenerational. And for those of you who don’t live under the same roof, Grandma and Big Daddy still live over on Hannah Street, your aunts and uncles are around the corner on Clinton Street, and your brothers and sisters and their kids are down and around the bend on Anthony Street.
When family was this close, we didn’t have to work too hard to “get to know” one another.
I feel like half of my hometown of Ft. Wayne, Indiana, is related to me. Growing up, we were in each other’s faces every day, but I moved away when I was eighteen. Nowadays, for most of us, family is spread out, and you only get to see most members through a computer or phone screen. It can feel pretty distant and require effort to make even that happen … and that’s with your OWN family. What do you do with your spouse’s family, specifically your spouse’s nieces and nephews?
For my husband and me, his nieces and nephews range in ages from 27−35. As adults, they have their own lives, their own phones, their own addresses and cars, and even children. Meaning, we don’t have to go through their parents to connect with them, as does my girlfriend whose spouse’s niece and nephew are nine and fourteen.
We recently hosted my husband Al’s family at our lake house for Easter. Leading up to it, I realized it was the first time I’d have a chance to spend days alone with his family, and I won’t front. I was a bit nervous. Especially in getting to know his brother’s and sister’s kids. Kids, regardless of their ages, will always be a bit more frank and transparent in their assessment of you. Al’s nieces and nephews and his son play the Dozens with each other like they invented the game! They are quick-witted and have each other’s nuanced “clap backs” basically choreographed. I didn’t know how to handle them all at once. So, I handled it like I do any situation or big project. I broke it into small bites.
No matter your scenario, the basic principle is the same: meet them where they are. Find out what they enjoy doing, what their interests are, and what generally makes them tick.
Cameron is theatrical and getting his master’s degree. So we talked strategy on how to make the leap from the non-profit to the for-profit sector. Whew! Check.
Alycia is the youngest and confessed that she didn’t like being the brunt of her older cousins’ jokes and pranks. I totally understood and united with her on that front. I don’t know if this helped, but by the end of the weekend, they’d confessed they didn’t know the constant pranking made her uncomfortable after all these years. And stopped cold turkey. Yes!
Alyson and I have being newlyweds in common. But more importantly, the girl can COOK! I actually liked learning that about her.
You can’t get to know everyone as a group. Make it a priority to interact with each one alone when you have even the slightest of chances. You can start with just observing them from afar. Take note of some things. Is your nephew wearing the latest sneakers and spending most of the family gathering wiping them off and fixing the bottom of his jeans to sit just right on the shoe? If so, what does this tell you? He likes his shoes! But why? And he cares about his appearance. But why? And he’s meticulous and perhaps even a bit anal. But why? You now have at LEAST three ways to connect with him. Maybe you love fashion and shoes, too! Talk about that. Do your best to find something that is an “in” and go from there. But don’t force it. They can smell your fear, and it gives them a home court advantage.
We don’t have a television at the lake house. By design. When you don’t have a screen to hide behind, it forces people to talk to each other, or play card games or board games. We played Spoons. Cute little innocent Alyson is a game shark. Who knew?!
No matter the age, that kid may not be super receptive to your efforts at first, but keep trying, because the thing is, nieces and nephews are important. They’re the next generation for your family, and getting to know them is totally worth the effort.