In 2008, our very good friends moved to California to pursue church planting. It was such a big loss for me. Not only had I lost my framily (friend+family), but the traditions we had established with them disappeared too. Suddenly we found ourselves faced with the dilemma of what to do around the different holidays and especially Christmastime since we didn’t have any family in town. We still traveled to Chicago to see Putty’s family, but we didn’t have our Champaign-based holidays anymore. We had to change with our circumstances and yet again (see previous post), make new holiday traditions.
Well, wouldn’t you know, Putty’s brother, Dan, ended up moving to Champaign and now we had real, blood family in the same town as us! We included him in as many things as we could and we often had similar friend groups. It was fun to have someone around who was actually related to us! Over the years Dan became an adopted brother to my siblings as well and even accompanied us on a family vacation up North one year.
Of course, we loved having him with us, but part of this trip up North came out of necessity. You see, it costs a lot more to travel to Florida around the holidays than at other times. Sadly, Putty’s parents had to relocate to Florida for Dad Putman’s job just as we were pregnant with our first child. This was a loss for us. Now the family that lived the closest to us became the furthest away family! Once again we were faced with making adjustments to holiday interactions because most of our family was now a bit too far to visit with at this time of year. After working out some new holiday routines, we became comfortable with how things were going.
But, things weren’t going to stay this way for long! When pregnant with our second child a few years later, my brother and sister-in-law started talking with us about moving back to the midwest from Colorado. I so longed to have them nearby, but I knew it was possible they’d move to Minnesota and not Champaign. Joy of joys, they decided to move here! Now we had two brothers and family close by for the holidays and special occasions again! We established our own special ways to celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter together, not to mention birthdays and other special events. It was great! It took some relational work, but it all came together so nicely.
A year later, my mother moved to town and yet again we made adjustments as we included her in our local celebrations and figured out how to participate in travel and visits with the family that still lived in other parts of the country. I couldn’t believe it, though. In two years I had 4 more people move to our town (brother, sister-in-law, niece, and mother)! What a delightful change! I actually had family living near me! I never would have guessed that this would happen. There was nothing besides us, in Champaign to draw our family here, except our amazing church! Having more family here was wonderful, but also stressful as we navigated new relationships. Once again, we figured it out.
I didn’t realize how different relational interactions would be between a ‘visiting relationship’ and a ‘local relationship’ until I had experienced both types with the same person/people. With my Mom and brother’s family, we had to express our expectations to each other in order to figure out what we all wanted from each other since we were so physically close now. Did we want weekly visits or just monthly? Did we expect to see each other on certain holidays or did we want the freedom to travel or just be alone? There was a lot to figure out once again, but we did it! Family was being built little by little, change by change.
However, in 2017 things changed… a lot! We had 13 new family members move to our area and one join by marriage. We gained a sister-in-law when Putty’s brother married his wonderful fiancee. Then in the Fall, within one week of each other, the other two families moved here! My father- and mother-in-law celebrated retirement and moved to Urbana to be near their sons, daughters-in-law and grandchildren. My sister and her husband moved here with their nine kids too, just around the corner! Within one year, what we had figured out for holiday celebrations with 12 local family members, we now needed to adjust to include 26 local family members! (This year, we welcomed another nephew to our happy crew!)
It was hard. I’m not going to lie. I had two sides of families to manage expectations and give equally to around the holidays. (That was part of the problem right there! I thought I had to manage others’ expectations instead of letting them take responsibility for themselves.) Some people wanted more holiday togetherness than others and that resulted in a lot of stress on my part. What if I end up giving two times the attention to one side of the family and not enough to the other? What if one sibling finds out I spent time with this other sibling in this specific way? Will there be jealousy? And perhaps the most emotionally straining for me, what if the grandparents feel like there’s an unequal balance of time with the kids and harbor resentment? I hoped everyone would tell me what they needed because my mind just made up all sorts of stories otherwise – and usually the worst case scenario!
We tried this. We tried that. We did this celebration, we did that celebration. We included these people for one event. We included the others for another event. It was enough to make my anxiety levels rise. And they did too. I had a lot of swirling thoughts in my mind about what to do. I felt stuck in my decision making – always deferring to what I thought the family members would want and not thinking about what I wanted. When I finally did make a decision, I often ended up second guessing it. I had such hard time differentiating what I needed and what I ‘should’ do for others, that I knew it was time to bring these problems to my counselor.
I’d been seeing a great counselor whose opinion I valued and trusted. He challenged me to sort through my expectations, my stress, and then he helped me learn how to manage it all. With my new tools in place, I worked to understand better how to more naturally build family togetherness and not force it to happen.
We made it through those first two years, but not without some casualties of feelings. It was hard to express our feelings and expectations to each other. It felt really vulnerable, even though these people were family members that I loved so much and generally felt very safe with. I did hold on to one specific hope though – the two year mark. Over the years I came to see a pattern that after about two years there’s a tipping point in new or changed relationships. Things seem to even out and a more natural relationship begins to form. We had seen this repeatedly each time a new family member moved to town. Each time we had to adjust from ‘visiting relationships’ to ‘local relationships’ with every person. I knew this could happen again, even with 14 relationships changing all at once. We could do this!
Finally, this year… THIS YEAR, I noticed the shift for myself, and subsequently ALL MY LOCAL FAMILY. This year, I felt different heading into the holidays. I felt more settled within myself. That settling helped me think more clearly. Instead of worry, anxiety and uncertainty, I had hope and expectation for the family times we set aside from October through December.
It’s been just over two years since the last people moved here. We’ve all come to know each other so much better over these past two years and we feel so much more at ease with one another. We’ve had hard conversations that have yielded understanding of one another and we’ve been able to build relationally because of them.
This year, after being inspired by some of Putty’s team-building ideas, I hijacked one of them for our family! Each Sunday from Thanksgiving through Christmas (totaling four), we held a large family movie night in our living room. Everyone came with snack foods for our supper and we all talked together in the kitchen while making up our plates. Then we enthusiastically headed to the living room where we tuned in to the movie for that night.
Seeing all the cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents choosing to participate together in this event week after week warmed my heart. The feelings of familiarity and ease only grew as we gathered each week. There were so many smiles and hugs and laughs. This year, we hit our stride. This year, our family togetherness soared to a new height and with it, all the holiday events. It leaves me looking forward to next year. I can see how our family has really been built up over these past two years.
You know, I didn’t know in advance how often my holiday ‘traditions’ would end up changing from year to year. I didn’t know that it’d be challenging at times. But, I have discovered that being flexible in this situation was really helpful. I learned that saying the hard things to each other opens us up to grow deeper relationally so that we can actually increase the family togetherness around the holidays. And you know what else? Sometimes it’s okay to throw something completely new into the mix to see if it floats or sinks. No matter which it does, it’ll still create memories. 🙂
4 thoughts on “Building Family – Family Edition”
Great Story Brittany! You have done a fantastic job of relating the complexity of your family! Thanks for sharing!
Thanks Julia! It has been pretty complex, indeed, but I’m really happy that within that complexity has come so much love and togetherness! It CAN happen! haha. 🙂
I didn’t realize until moving here that I didn’t really understand what it feels like to be part of a family. Doing things with family doesn’t necessarily mean you really belong. It just means there is an obligation to be together. I realized that during the Christmas movie nights. Even though I was there (because my last name was Putman), I felt like I disappeared to everyone. That was a helpful insight. I have been giving some time to dismantle that lie. Your extended family has been very helpful. I feel welcomed by them and that is helping me figure out what it feels like to feel secure in belonging. Thanks, Brittany, for working so hard to figure out this family thing. It is helping me as well.
Mom, thanks so much for sharing so openly about what God’s been teaching you about family! It’s so exciting when we are moving deeper into the freedom that God gives to us. I pray along with you for even deeper understanding and blessing of family in your life. Love you!