One of the unique challenges of getting older is that our family relationships and family dynamics change with the passage of time. As a result, many women over 60 might find themselves navigating some uncertain emotional territory with their family relationships.
Perhaps you’ve recently gone through the death of a parent (or both parents), or the loss of a spouse, or a divorce. Perhaps your grown children have moved far away to pursue their careers, leaving you feeling like even more of an “empty nester.”
Whatever the challenge may be, women over 60 can draw upon their inner strength and resilience to find new ways to embrace their loved ones and build healthy relationships for the long-term.
Here are a few ideas on how we can build healthy family relationships, no matter what is going on in our lives:
If you are feeling a bit disconnected from your family – whether it’s a brother or sister who you haven’t talked to in awhile, or a grown child who hasn’t visited since last Christmas – perhaps you can take the initiative to re-connect. Go beyond e-mail or a Facebook greeting, and pick up the phone. Or send a heartfelt personal letter to show them how you feel and explain where you are in your life, and express your excitement to welcome them back into it after a period of time apart.
Many families drift apart not through outright conflict or ill will, but because everyone is busy doing their own thing and living their own lives.
As women over 60, we often have a special responsibility within our families to be connectors and leaders. Don’t feel resentful when others don’t call or visit; instead, take the initiative to extend an invitation to connect. People are social creatures, and we are almost always happy to be invited to connect with each other.
Have your family reunions started to feel bland or predictable? When was the last time you shared a really great party with your family, whether it’s to celebrate the arrival or a new baby in the family or celebrate a graduation or wedding? Some of the happiest families are the ones that best know how to celebrate – and it doesn’t always have to be a “special occasion” or an expensive celebration.
Are you feeling disconnected from your family due to a recent death? Sometimes siblings grow apart after their parents have died; but this doesn’t have to happen. Life isn’t always fun and roses, and one of the best ways to stay close as a family is to be together in times of mourning and sadness.
Funerals are often a whirlwind of grief and powerful emotion, but perhaps your family could get together on the 1-year-anniversary of a death, to share stories and honor their memories, in a less emotionally-fraught moment. Commemorating your family’s losses – even years after the person being remembered has died – is a reminder of your shared heritage, shared continuity and shared love.
Many families battle through crowded airports and highways to get together for Christmas, Thanksgiving and other major holidays – but what if you could schedule some regular visits outside of the holiday rush? For example, you could rent a cabin or lake house with your family each year for the same summer weekend, or have a “siblings only” vacation in a different city each year where you and your adult siblings can reconnect and enjoy each other’s company.
Families are complex, and sometimes in our interactions with our parents and adult siblings, we fall into certain roles from childhood (“the responsible oldest child,” “the troublemaker,” “Daddy’s little girl,” etc.) in a way that does not fully reflect our character, values and potential as independent adults.
If you feel that your relationships with your family are being held back from flourishing because of emotional baggage or issues or flawed interpersonal communication from the past, talk about it with a therapist, psychologist or licensed clinical social worker. Often there are ways to see your relationships in a new light – and strengthen your confidence and interpersonal interactions in all areas of your life.
One of the ways to create a sense of continuity with your family is to share a certain emotionally significant piece of art, craft or artifact that you all have in your houses and that can remind you of each other when you are apart.
For a fun gift idea to create connections with your family, perhaps you could get an extended family portrait photo session, and then get a framed photo for everyone’s house. Or choose a unique piece of art, craft or antique that you can each keep a copy of in your home to remind you of your loved ones and your shared bond.
Family traditions are important, as part of the way that we carry on our sense of ourselves and convey our identity and values to the next generation. In addition to honoring old family traditions (singing certain songs, cooking certain meals, perhaps vacationing at a certain destination), it helps to create new traditions as your family changes and grows over the years.
Perhaps you could start a new travel tradition with your grandchildren and take them on a special weekend vacation each summer, or perhaps if one of your grown kids marries someone from another faith or culture, you could include their cultural/faith rituals into your own family’s celebrations.
Family is a source of strength for many women over 60. I hope it can be the same for you. One of the best ways to keep our families strong is to do these seemingly small things each year – re-connecting, celebrating, socializing, passing the time together and honoring each other’s lives with our presence.
What are your favorite family traditions? What are some ways that your way of relating to your family has changed or gotten better as you’ve gotten older? Please join the conversation.
Here are some tips for building family traditions that will stand the test of time.