I have a handful of friends who are fortunate enough to have their parents or spouse’s parents living close enough that their kids get to see Grandma and Grandpa on a regular basis and they are there for the emergency school pick up or a spur of the moment Saturday night dinner out. I am envious of those friends and often remind them to be thankful for their parents’ proximity, even when it comes with the occasional meddling or parental advice that seems annoying.
My parents are 6 hours away from our home in Charlotte and my wife’s parents are 16 hours away, so the luxury of unplanned, unexpected, or spur of the moment family time is not a part of our lives. Being this far away from immediate family is a relatively new phenomenon in the United States. Before World War II, if a young man left his small Southern Illinois town to get his medical degree (as my Great Grandpa “Doc” Parmenter did), he’d hurry back to his hometown or a small town near there when he was done with school to practice. He often married a girl from the same area and they raised their children in the shadow of all kinds of family that would get together on a regular basis and help each other out as needed. It was the generally accepted way of life all over the country. When the next generation of young men went off to war in the early 1940’s, they returned with some different attitudes. Suddenly, farm boys from Kansas who had been globetrotting around Europe for 3 years decide to move their young families to California and live a different lifestyle; and young men from New York City came home and headed South to places like my hometown of Charlotte where the climate was more like where they’d been fighting in Southern France. All of a sudden, families started to spread out, and the dynamics of the extended family changed.
Over the past week, however, I was reminded of the importance and value of finding that family time, regardless of miles. My in-laws made the long drive to spend the week with us last week and help my wife out while I was gone on a business trip. The kids got off the bus for a few days to a waiting Granny and learned plenty of new things (good and bad I’m sure) about their maternal grandparents. Most importantly, they were reminded that there are other adults who care very deeply for them and want to encourage them to grow mentally and emotionally, as well as physically, strong. This weekend, we packed up the car and met my parents in the mountains of North Alabama (picture above) for a few days of relaxation and time together. Along with my mom’s never ending supply of songs, my kids saw yet another peek into what makes them who they are and felt the love and caring of their paternal grandparents who gave them all the attention they wanted. It was also a good chance for me to talk out thoughts and ideas with the only two people who have been a constant presence in my life.
I am so grateful for both my parents and my wife’s parents for the sacrifice of time and money that they make to spend time with us. We haven’t chosen to live in the same town as either of them or even close enough for regular visits, but it is important enough to both of them to have family time that they are willing to carve out time and resources to make it happen. Who knows what extended family life will look like as our kids grow up, but I have learned from the example of my kids’ grandparents that I need to set as a priority time with my children when they are adults and their kids when that time comes. Family time isn’t always neat and tidy, but it is an important connection to who we are and an informative look at the people who have shaped us. If you are fortunate enough to have your parents or in-laws close by, you should tell them thank you. If you’re like us, you should do your part to make family time a priority.