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At a recent family reunion held on a small academic campus, we shared a breakfast table with three teenage students. During our conversation, one of them asked hesitantly, “So, why are you here?”
“We’re here for a family reunion,” I answered. Instantly, all three boys asked at the same time, “What’s that?”
A little surprised, I stammered, “Well. . . it’s where we get together with our family.” Another boy chimed in, “You’re all the same family? How many of you are there?” I replied, “About 200.” He dropped his fork, “You’re kidding! Where are you from?” “All over the United States.” “Wow,” the third said incredulously, “You mean everybody came just for this?”
“Yes,” I continued, “to see our cousins and aunts and uncles that we haven’t seen for a while.” Their heads were cocked, and they had stopped eating. I was losing them. I explained, “We all share the same grandparents.”
Three sets of eyes flew open, “You all have the same grandparents?” “Well, technically, they’re my grandparents, and my children’s great-grandparents.” Now their eyes were glazed over. I had completely lost them.
Here were three boys with vastly different backgrounds, yet the concept of an intergenerational family was foreign to them. They could not comprehend it. Even after they left the table, their question wouldn’t leave my mind.
What is a family reunion?
It is a time for fun and photos, but a family reunion is so much more. It is where stories of the past bring loved ones alive again. It is where children compare how much they’ve grown, and teenagers see where they got their red hair. It is where babies are passed around and adored. It is where young mothers learn how older cousins survived the baby years, and young fathers see they’re not the only man with a child hanging on their leg. It is where widowed aunts share cherished memories, and Grandpa smiles through his pain as he contentedly observes the chaos.
A family reunion shapes our sense of identity and belonging, and reminds us we are part of something much bigger than ourselves. Our extended family shows us where we fit into the world. As relationship experts Richard and Linda Eyre explain in their new book, "The Turning," “Families are what tie us to those who went before and to the rest of humanity. They give us our identity, and it is an identity that we can build on and improve before we pass it on to our own children.”
Family reunions help us build our identity and pass it on to our children, through connecting with extended family and sharing family stories.
Connecting with extended family
Connecting with extended family may be more important than we realize. Research shows that extended family connections help children to be happier, smarter, kinder and more resilient.
An Oxford study found that teenagers whose grandparents were actively engaged in their lives were happier. They had fewer emotional and behavior problems, and got along with their peers better. “Close relationships between grandparents and grandchildren buffer the effects of adverse life events,” the authors concluded.
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