For many youth and their families, it is a few years since they’ve gotten together with their relatives. If you are thinking of something to do that is good for mental health, why not consider a family visit?
My happiest summer memories are of visiting relatives with my parents and brother and sisters and, in fact, research confirms that family visits are good for kids’ mental health. I remember campfires by a cottage with my cousins, biking to the variety store with my cool uncle, and playing endless games of cribbage with my grandmother who I’m pretty sure cheated.
The last week in July and the first week in August were the two weeks reserved for the textile industry holiday when I was growing up. My father managed a woolen mill and every summer we would take those two weeks to visit family. The small town where I grew up was far away from my parents’ Ottawa Valley families. We had moved to the De Lanaudière region when I was five and after that move, we found ourselves lonely for the relatives who had been our constant company. My mother always said that it was very hard on her, and so she welcomed the visits of relatives and could not wait for the summer when we travelled back to the valley for our holidays. We knew from experience what research has shown about the psychological advantages of having a large, if sometimes annoying, family.
There are three things to remember about the psychological advantages of a large family, especially a week into your visit when you are just starting to remember what bugged you about your younger brother.
The first is that having a close extended family means that you will have people that you can count on in a crisis. If a crisis happens, if someone becomes sick or if you just need someone to visit with or talk to, people with an extended family often have support.
Secondly, large families are a source of knowledge and continuity for children about their parents. It was very reassuring to me as a teen hearing my grandmother talk about my mother’s independent nature and about how she was always getting into trouble. I also got into lots of problematic situations and knowing that my Mom had been the same as a teen helped me feel understood. My grandmother’s stories connected me to my mother as a young woman, and they helped me to know her. Most children love to hear stories about their parents, and it’s good for them. It grounds them, the research tells us.
Finally, I learned more from my cousins and aunts and uncles and my grandmother than I would ever have listened to from my parents. For any child, parents are too familiar and, when you’re angry with them, another member of your family will often be able to get through to you. Family members help children learn important life lessons.
I remember thinking when I was quite small that my family’s love for me must have come from their love for my parents whom they had known longer. I could never understand how they could love me so much when, as far as I could tell, they hadn’t really seen me much. I thought about this a lot and recall vividly this conversation with my grandmother:
“Who exactly is my family? I call Aunt Susan ‘Aunt’, but she’s not my real aunt.”
“Aunt Susan is your aunt because she’s your mother’s good friend, like a sister to her and an aunt to you. Your family are all the people who love you, always, even when you’re mad at them and they’re mad at you.”
“How many years does that take?”
I remember everyone laughing at my question, even though there is an answer. The love of an extended family can blossom in just a few weeks of summer. Why not try it?