I am a strong believer in family. Family is an inherent part of our lives. Everyone is a part of a family. But the truth is, most families are a bit dysfunctional, and I believe there is a good reason for this. Relationships are hard work, and just because you are related to a person doesn’t mean that you will naturally get along. Yes, most of the time you can attest to the fact that you love your family members, but how well do you really know them? Do you take the time to keep in touch with them?
I have always known that family is a gift, but one that most people take advantage of, including me. We have certain expectations of one another even though we don’t put any effort into developing our relationships with each other. It’s a simple and routine “Hello, how is life? Yes, mine is going fine, too. Nice to see you. Goodbye” and then we don’t see them until the next holiday gathering, with the same fake smiles on our faces when we greet each other out of obligation rather than with a genuine interest in one another.
Through the making and breaking of various relationships in my own life, I have learned that if I want a relationship to work, if it’s important to me, I have to work hard to maintain it. Of course, the first step is to develop the relationship in the first place. Think about it: how many of your family members have you developed meaningful relationships with? Who is being neglected? I recently made a conscious decision to develop a relationship with my niece.
This past January, my husband and I went on our annual family vacation with his parents and sister and her family. It was a great time. We enjoyed a crystal clear ocean, delicious food, and lots of down time. Each day was spent on the beach, sipping cocktails, going swimming, reading, etc. Of course, two days into the trip, my eight year-old niece boldly conveyed her boredom.
“This is so boring,” she complained. “No one’s playing with me.”
I turned my head to see what her four year-old little brother was up to. He was deep in the sand, a shovel in one hand and a toy car in the other, talking to himself, fully immersed in his own games. I looked down at my niece, and realized, for the first time, that I really had no idea who she was. I had never taken the time to get to know her. So, from that moment on, I decided that my pile of books and magazines could wait, and that my tan could wait until the summer. I spent almost every day of our vacation week hanging out with my niece, and loved every moment of it. Here is what I learned about how to develop a meaningful relationship with your niece or nephew:
Take the Time to Listen to Them: Especially because I myself am not a mother, it sometimes takes everything I have to sit and really listen to what children have to say. I think a lot of times we brush them off because we don’t think they have anything important to say, but after taking the time to listen to my niece, I realized that I’ve really been missing out on some great conversations! She is so smart and entertaining!
Get to know and Share In Their Interests: I have come to learn that every child is different. It’s amazing to see their personalities develop as they grow older. I’ve been learning a lot about my niece and nephew. My niece loves alone time just as much as she loves spending time with the people around her. She loves to do arts and crafts with her friends but also loves reading on her own. Give my nephew a couple of toys and don’t bother him because he will be in his happy place. My niece read aloud to me, and then we hunted for seashells together. I held shovels and buckets for my nephew and handed him what he needed while he built his sandcastle. Get involved in their hobbies!
I enjoy every moment that I spend with my niece and nephew, and hope to continue to develop my relationships with them. It takes effort, but it is so worth it!