Family Obligations: A Necessary Evil?

I have a lot of family, especially considering the age and decibel level of some members. But when does a family become an obligation?

Let’s start with my family. I don’t feel obligated to attend activities that my nieces or nephews are involved in but I want to.  I don’t feel obligated to spend time with my sisters, parents, grandparents or most of my aunts and uncles because I truly want to spend time with them.  I hear people talk about needing to call their mom or go visit their brother or sister and I am so grateful that I look forward to seeing my parents and sisters and probably irritate my mother by calling too often! I have to admit that there is one great-uncle for whom it is more of an obligation than a pleasure to spend time with but that is not a bad ratio considering the number of aunts and uncles I have!

So, if I look forward to spending time with a majority of my family, am I obligated to spend time with those who have rarely, if ever, seemed interested in spending time with me? Whose responsibility is it to keep in contact with extended family; should the older generation reach out to the younger? Should I be making a big effort to make sure my kids know their great-aunts and uncles and second cousins? Do I take resentments and anger that isn’t necessarily mine into account?

Now, let’s add Blair’s family to the mix…. I feel exactly the same about all of our nieces and nephews, regardless of whose children they are.  I have 15 fabulous nieces and nephews that I enjoy spending time with whenever possible and got to see 13 out of 15 last weekend. But what is my role as an in-law in this family?

Blair’s family is not overly demonstrative and to a degree they don’t consider in-laws as family. For instance, he doesn’t really consider his dad’s brother’s wife to be his aunt. When I came in to this family, I think they were a little shocked that I started calling her Aunt Annete right away and took my role as aunt very seriously, as seriously as I did with my sister’s children.  Our immediate family has changed in that regard over the years but the extended family is as scattered as ever.

Should I be pushing Blair to maintain contact with his aunts and uncles?  He is not even sure how many cousins he has because the communication lines are so broken, not because there is any bitterness or hatred in most cases but because they are just not good at communicating! A couple of his uncles will randomly show up every once in a while, without warning, and might stop by to say hello but that is the extent of it. I’ve never met one of his father’s sisters and his mother’s siblings only sporadically, which is so strange for me.

When Blair’s sister is in town from Omaha, I try to plan get-togethers for the entire family so we can all spend time with her and her 3 small children but is that my job? Should I continue and should I keep pushing Blair to take time off to go visit her more often?

Family is so important and I want my kids to have a large, extended family to rely on when things get tough and to mine for great stories as they get older. But I don’t want the bitterness and age-old disputes to taint their experiences with family, so the question remains: should I feel obligated to make sure my kids know every member of their extended family or can I pick and choose?

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