Let’s grow our concept of what ‘Growing Families’ means – I mean expand the orbit of the current paradigm of the nuclear family to include significant, influential others, such as grandmas, granddads, uncles, cousins, aunties, special friends, neighbours, spiritual community members. A bigger galaxy of planets our children can orbit around instead of just one (solo parent) or two. A bigger galaxy for us to orbit around so that we can get support and wisdom from respected others. 

An older cousin can model the manners or responsibility that the child ignores from her or his parents’ mouths. Sometimes an auntie or uncle can provide the right counsel to a child that a parent wouldn’t have a chance of airing. A battered mother has a better chance of finding safety if there are caring others around to witness the violence. Sexual abuse is less likely to go unnoticed if we are orbiting in a greater galaxy. The sick and elderly would have more people to care for them than just a daughter (who’s already working and raising a family). A diversity of ideas and opinions would be available to our children.

In my field of family therapy there is a foundational concept that the larger a family is, the healthier its prospect, as more family members means more influences, resources, diversity of approaches; simply put, more shoulders to lean and cry on!

parenting

And while we’re at it, let’s expand our definition of “family.” Does it have to be confined to biological ties? Who here hasn’t found a friend who demonstrated as much as or more loyalty and trust than a family member?

Many of my clients are “sandwich” parents: the meat between their young children and their ageing parents. If it wasn’t hard enough working full-time and raising a family, just add the time required to care for those who cared for you. Unfortunately, this can include conflicts with adult siblings, legal issues, financial strife, medical issues and lots of worry. Our commercially-driven society doesn’t honour or recognise the time and effort involved in being the only planet that these two generations orbit around and depend on. I’d like to recommend listening to Kim Hill interview Dr Marilyn Waring on how little women’s work is still valued in NZ: http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/saturday

The solution- grow your galaxy: find new friends or family members who enhance your family’s life; expect to have your favours and help returned, and dump those who are “takers” and don’t practice reciprocity; value yourself, and your kids will value you.

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Marta Fisch is a family and individual therapist, supervisor, and trainer. She loves playing with her son, dancing, and riding her bike to work. She's involved in community sustainability initiatives, which brings her hope and a sense of belonging. Marta grew up in California and has lived in New Zealand / Aotearoa for 20 years. You can find out more on her website

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