Last week we celebrated a special anniversary. Joe and I and 20 of our family members spent the week together at a lakeside cabin. Note—almost all who gather with us are what some would call Type A personality. Everyone is accustomed to being in charge.
This remarkable week and celebration, produced by our adult children, their spouses and our in-laws was a very real example of passing what I call “the glue.”
What is the glue? It is a generation in the family that seems to hold the family together, the opposite would be something of a family disconnect. For example, have you ever noticed in some families when grandma and grandpa pass away, the family splinters, losing its cohesiveness? The grandchildren/cousins don’t have much connection. Family members go their separate ways, sometimes spurred by ill feelings.
As the generational glue in that family, grandma or grandpa may have been peace-maker, communication hub, social engineer, party provider, supporter of the family team, the ones that held the vision of family togetherness. For whatever reason, those important roles—the ones that become the glue in larger family relationships—were not transferred before the oldest generation’s passing.
At its best, passing the glue happens gradually—and intentionally. The oldest generation finds a way to lovingly share, and ultimately pass on being the center of the hub to the next generation.
The next generation needs time to try out the roles, to practice. Eventually, without even thinking about it, they are comfortable in the center-of-the-hub position, actively minding the spirit of family togetherness. If this transition can happen before their passing, grandma and grandpa will have satisfaction and peace of mind knowing that their family will hold together after they are gone.
If your family holds strong values of family unity, you might be asking: how does a family start passing the glue?
If you are the elder, share your vision of family solidarity for the future. How do you want your family to stick together? This is a good time to share what is important to you, especially as it relates to family. Engage family members in the conversation. What does family togetherness mean to them? What would they like to do to promote that unity?
If you are the adult child, it is time to begin taking on the spirit and activities of creating fun. Encourage communication among the larger family. It may start with holding a holiday event at your house, instead of at Grandma’s, just as grandma did when she was your age.
Or, it may begin when there is a crisis and family-wide communication is important. When the “family unity glue” is practiced by many of the next generation, a sense of shared family responsibility creates a strong base. Of course, this requires conversation and co-operation so no one feels either left out or has their toes stepped on.
In our family, our children have been gradually taking on the social and communication glue over the last decade. This week they brought everyone together for a wonderful celebration.
What might get in the way of successfully transferring the glue to the next generation?
In most cases, without the glue, families splinter off into separate units, losing what was unique about their family of origin. They lose the care and support of their siblings and cousins. They lose the identity of belonging to the larger family. This is not because they might live in different cities; it is just somehow the importance of the larger family gets lost.
Family rough edges, lack of forgiveness, the need for family healing or growing, lack of vision, lack of communication about the vision, lack of co-operation can all derail family cohesiveness.
What can be done to grow the success of family unity?
Talking about who you are as family, what is important to you, and how you want to be together in the future are great openings to the transition of passing the glue.
Forgiving and letting go of old wounds, assuming positive intent of others, and not taking things personally, allows a safe space for strong bonds to grow. Accept that within each sibling family unit there will be differences, but there can always be “the glue”.
Share your enthusiasm about the value of family cohesion. Of course, there will be differences in family members’ style and substance. Looking for common ground helps bridge the gaps. Looking for what is right and good rather than criticism is an important ingredient in the glue.
No family has only “Kumbaya moments.” Families—especially larger families—have a big mix of personalities, styles, and sensitivities. There are likely to be bumps in the relationship road. It is worth the effort to always look for common ground as a safe place to travel together.
The glue should be shared with as many family members as want to be an active part of living the family vision for the future. The journey is about finding ways to connect with each other and creating shared memories. If it cannot happen within immediate family, reach out to cousins and other generations of aunts, uncles and so forth.
Why not begin passing the glue with fun events and conversations about what family solidarity looks like? Create a vision that will sustain you for decades –until it is time to pass the glue to yet another generation.
The value of sticking together is a good one to pass on. I feel blessed to watch that happen in my own family and I hope you have fun finding it in yours.
Coach Karen C