The Commercial Appeal
Parent worries about only child’s connections to cousins
Adapted from an online discussion. Dear Carolyn: I have nieces and nephews that range in age from 14 to 35. I love them all, but I must admit I am disappointed in how my relationship with most of them plays out. Simply put, they rarely if ever initiate communication and almost never reciprocate.
My husband and I occasionally text them to check in and always try to reach out to commemorate their special occasions, maybe twice a year. I sent a text to my niece last night wishing her well on an upcoming milestone; I can tell she has read the message, but there has not been any response. This is basically how it plays out on both sides of the family regardless of age of the child.
I try not to let my feelings get hurt. When we are together in person, everyone gets along fine and the relationships are solid. I really want my son to have decent relationships with his cousins, as he is an only child and I don’t want him to be alone without extended family after my husband and I pass. We live six to 18 hours by air from family. Suggestions? Disappointed
Disappointed: Yes, one, offered with the utmost respect for your values and your intentions: Stop.
I think it’s great you keep in touch with nieces and nephews. With a light touch, do keep it up – and take advantage of any reasonable opportunity to see them in person.
The “stop” is for the orchestration of your kid’s world after your demise. That’s just several degrees beyond your reach – and so of course you’re frustrated by it. You can’t make other people form a supportive crust around your kid. They will or they won’t depending on their own calculations.
You’re also so far away! What you’re doing to stay in touch is fine, but for building connections, it’s really low-percentage. The highest-percentage step toward maintaining a family network is to move closer to family.
I realize that’s not always in our power. If you can’t, then you can’t. But that will also probably mean your goal of building a strong cousin network is quixotic from the start. A high-percentage alternative is to nurture your son’s inner strength and his network-building and communication skills. Manners, responsiveness, empathy. These will help him build a strong family anywhere, of birth or choice. Then it’ll be up to him – and that’s okay. You’ll have equipped him for that.
Re: Niblings and Authenticity: “Disappointed,” take a minute to think about why you are valuing your niblings – because they are useful to you. Try viewing them not as means to an end, but as individuals in their own right.
Anonymous: This made the solid “thunk” of a home run. Square and leaves no doubt. Thank you.
Other readers’ thoughts: h When I was young, there were aunts and uncles we just didn’t see often. One aunt always sent a birthday card, and I’m pretty sure my sister and I didn’t do the same. But we reconnected several years ago and have visited and stayed in touch. I’m grateful my aunts and uncles didn’t hold our lack of contact against us but continued to make room for us.
Email Carolyn at email@example.com.