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Ten ways to strengthen family ties

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Family by definition is parents and siblings, the basic unit for raising children. We all grow up in different constellations of family, but most of us are still emotionally part of the family we grew up with.

Sharing childhood with your siblings can be just as wonderful and loving as challenging and difficult. Memories of playing and laughter, secret codes and bonding are shared with memories of teasing and fighting, disputes and tension.

I oftentimes wish I could have the same intimacy and connection I had with my little sister when we were children. I wish she’d love me and accept me the same way she did back then. Maybe she does. Maybe she doesn’t. Between us there’s a big cloud of emotional distance. I’ll never stop working on and hoping for that cloud to dissolve.

As we grow up, we sometimes distance ourselves from our family, either geographically or emotionally. Sometimes both. We leave home to study at a university, get a job and our own apartment, travel the world, start projects with friends, get engaged, go through heartache, we enter adulthood and move forward on our journey through life. We create our own little family and have less time for others.

Many of us no longer see our parents on a daily or even weekly basis. In modern society it’s common to live so far away from each other that it’s logistically difficult to meet frequently. Some families only meet for the traditional holidays, some by choice and some for other reasons.

I believe most of us long for our family members when we are apart. But somehow, when we finally get to spend time together, it is not as wonderful as it is in our longing daydreams. Initially there’s happy and heartfelt chattering and everyone’s enjoying being reunited in the lightness and laughter around the dinner table. Somehow, it doesn’t take long before the first feeling of irritation or uninvited tension pops up. That tone of voice you know so well, a word or a look that lets you know that the love bubble just burst. I never handle this moment very well emotionally.

Over the past months, I’ve asked pretty much everyone I met and talked to; my family, relatives, close friends, acquaintances, former colleagues and even strangers – people from all over the world, what they feel is the best thing with having your family.

Some feel just like me, that they love their family deeply, they miss them and long for them and look forward to meeting them when it’s possible. I was surprised to learn how many also share the same experience, that once you’ve gone through the first happy hugging and the first sitting at the dinner table, somehow, sadly, the love bubble starts to vibrate and ends up bursting all over you. You wipe your face, determined to get the feeling back, but somehow you know it won’t quite work.

Others get uncomfortable and stiff as they normally don’t share the secret that their family is actually a wound. So much dysfunction with alcohol and abuse or lack of love and understanding, that they have chosen to emotionally and physically distance themselves from their family. They carry with them a sorrow and the sadness of not really having a family, not one of love and comfort anyway.

On a recent flight from London to Los Angeles I asked my question to the person sitting next to me, a man from Ohio, USA. What is the best thing with having your family? In his world, family is the core of everything. Love, togetherness, joy and belonging. The best times in his life are all the moments spent with his family, and their love bubble never bursts. He was surprised to hear that a family could ever get to a point where you feel uncomfortable. I was intrigued by the quality of their love bubble and asked how they spend their family time together.

-We sing, he said, looking at me as if it was the obvious thing to do. Then he asked me –do you sing when you get together? I smile now as I smiled then. The only time we ever sing together is on birthdays, and we do it by pure obligation. We sing through “happy birthday” in a very queasy moment, waiting for it to be over.

The more I think about it, the more likely it feels that his family has cracked the code on how to feel and stay united, eternally wrapped in their family love bubble. They all share a common passion. An activity they enjoy doing together and have always done together. I have friends who have always, for as long as I have known them, spent their family time doing the same activity. Some always go hiking, enjoying outdoor adventures, some always go skiing, some are into politics and always talk about it and participate in local political activities, some are very active in church and some share a hobby that just never goes away.

It seems that in families where personalities and characters are very different, and where no common activities or hobbies are shared, the love bubble just won’t hold them all together and family moments tend to get stiff and uncomfortable. Instead of feeling the togetherness, we feel how different we are.

We all need the love and the comfort of a family and we’re all supposed to have it. Sadly, in reality, only some permanently have it, some get to experience it before the bubble bursts and some just constantly long for it.

Ten ways to strengthen family ties

Appreciate that you’re lucky to have a family.

  1. Make an effort to stay connected, make that phone call, not just Facebook and text messages.
  2. Give that extra hug when you meet, dare to be emotional.
  3. Accept that you’re different.
  4. Forgive the mistakes and shortcomings.
  5. Take time to talk to your parents, they won’t be around forever. From the day they are gone, there is nothing you can do or say to make things right. Take the time now.
  6. Express your love to your sibling or parent, even if it can only really exist in your imagination. Make them know that you wish the bubble wouldn’t burst. Use words, a gift or send a postcard.
  7. Be grateful for your siblings; they challenged and encouraged you to learn communication, patience, interaction, understanding, compassion, right and wrong and sharing.
  8. Plan something nice together; a family dinner, a holiday or a concert. Create more togetherness.
  9. Bring out photo albums or films from when you grew up, enjoy the memories together.

Our family has been there forever, they know our past. The good and the bad, the happy and the sad. Somehow, they are always there for us –some for real, some in our imagination.

We love our family, even if sometimes we don’t understand them or can’t even stand them. They push our buttons and they hurt our feelings. But most of all, they confirm our existence.

Annica C. Törneryd, March 3, 2015

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