The Expanding Family Horizon

  What is a “family horizon”? you may ask. A horizon is a line as far as the eye can see- usually a boundary between the known and the unknown, the real and the imaginary. In relation to a family, a child’s horizon might be very close-at-hand: mom, dad, brother, sister. These are the people we interact with every day and come to rely on for comfort and emotional support.

Today’s families aren’t so black and white, though. Due to high rates of divorce , financial needs and longevity there is a greater likelihood that a family’s horizon will expand. In-laws or step-families, adult children and spouses all add to the expanded version of today’s family- often inhabiting the same household.

Early on, children learn to include their grandparents and aunts/uncles/cousins into the category of extended family. My children had 4 grandparents, 4 sets of aunts /uncles and 2 cousins. One set of grandparents divorced before they were born. My daughter was a year old when my father remarried. His wife graciously accepted an endearing nickname and took on the role of step-grandmother. She brought their horizon up to 5 grandparents.

The other set of grandparents was married for 56 years and were only recently separated due to death. That shrunk my kids’ horizon, but only temporarily. Within a year, their Nana had met a gentleman who liked her very much and they began spending a lot of time together. When my father married a new partner, the kids were too young to know there had been anything different. But at this stage of their lives, the idea that their Nana could take a new partner seemed to rock their concept of family.

My children obviously have strong loyalties and affection for family members. My daughter is a believer in the status quo. Neither has any experience with romantic relationships, other than what they see on tv, so it was difficult for them to accept that their grandmother had already come to terms with their grandfather’s death and was ready to move on with her life.

Q. How do you get a self-centered teenager to switch lenses and zoom out to a farther horizon?

A. Patience and baby steps.

We had heard much about Nana’s beau and my husband and I were very supportive; but it took several months until we finally met him. The kids were nervous- not sure what to expect or how to treat him- he wasn’t their beloved Papa after all. When he and Nana arrived, we spent as much time out of the house as possible (at a tennis match, restaurant and they slept at a nearby hotel). I think it was important that the kids didn’t feel pressured that he needed to be treated like family at this initial meeting.

By getting to talk with him and realize what a kind, thoughtful person he is, they were able to form their own opinion of him and be more forgiving of Nana. My son actually said he was happy if she was happy. A few weeks later, Nana visited alone for several days, reassuring the kids that she was aways there for them. She had an opportunity to answer their questions about her boy-friend and I think they were more open-minded.

By their next visit together, he should be welcomed back as a member of the expanded family- and my children have reset their sights on a higher point of the family horizon.