Around the dinner table last night the subject centred around family and how fragmented our lives have become in the modern world. Many of us grew up with cousins down the road and grandparents round the corner but this seems more the exception these days and not the rule.
Besides family members living in different cities, many of us at the dinner table had siblings or indeed parents in other countries. My brother and his family live in KZN, my sister in England and my father in the Eastern Cape. Our in-laws live in Cape Town, my sister-in-law in America and we live in Joburg. So the irony is that although we may have moved back from England three years ago to be closer to family, we are still relatively far from each other and popping in for tea is not an option.
We discussed whether this was a uniquely South African problem or one being experienced worldwide. It becomes a hugely sensitive topic because many people have left South Africa in search for a safer, more stable life in England, Australia or the US. But the sad part is that this search for a “better” life means that there will be less summer holidays spent together on the beach with cousins, less fun to be had with uncles and aunts and less influence on our children from their wise grandparents. We are losing the interconnectedness of family, of shared blood and shared memories and are being left as isolated units, trying to reaffirm our identities on our own.
But here’s the thing: in the absence of close family nearby, I believe we place more emphasis on friendship. When we need an emergency babysitter we can’t rely on family, so we call up one of our friends. Sunday lunches are spent with friends instead of parents and in this way our children begin to develop friendships with our friends’ children, which we hope will last for years to come.
We can’t change geography. The most we can do is adapt, make a consistent effort to spend holidays with family members and in between those times, communicate with family as often as possible. Skype helps, as do telephone calls and emails – but nothing will replace that precious currency of time spent together.
This holiday I can’t wait to see the little cousins tearing around the garden together, enjoy a meal with my siblings and watch Rachel interact with her grandfather. And it’s up to us, as parents, to create these moments for our kids, to show them the value of family bonds and of history, so that they always knew where they’ve come from – and where they’re going.