One unfortunate consequence of the technological revolution and improvements in communication, travel and other advances of our time is disconnection from our extended families.
Even as recently as 50 years ago, our families lived all around us; if not in the same home, at least in the same village or town. My brother and sister lived down the street, my parents next door with grandma and grandpa.
While this way of living was certainly not without its challenges, there were lots of benefits. Grandma helped mother get dinner ready in the kitchen, Grandpa read the little ones a story. This was REAL help, right? When little Johnny was incessantly arguing with Mom and Dad, he was sent packing to Aunt Sally’s house down the street to stay with his cousins for a few days. Johnny was happy to get space from his parents and Mom and Dad could use time apart too – it was good for everyone. You get the picture?
Does anybody still have that? If you do, you’re lucky. For most of us, I would bet we are already largely disconnected –both physically and emotionally– from our immediate and extended family.
There is a solution. People say you can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family. In my house, we decided we could and we did. We began adopting our family from the people with whom we already liked to share our lives. And, if you haven’t already, I highly recommend you begin doing the same.
These are the young men and women in their 20s or 30s whom you would like your children to grow up to be like.
When you find them, invite them for dinner. Watch the behavior of your children change immediately. While you are preparing dinner, uncles are giving your sons the undivided attention they get so little of in our fractured, over-busy world.
My family asked three young adult men whom we were particularly fond of to become uncles for our sons.
You know, take a real interest in them, hang out with them, play legos with them, throw the ball with them, tell jokes. And also, correct them when they are misbehaving, remind them to clear the table, you name it – the whole thing.
I don’t know the first thing about fixing a bicycle, but Uncle Tyler does. And, I don’t know the first thing about synching my ipod, But Uncle Simon does. And, I can’t get my son to go outside, but Uncle Tom can. In fact, when I don’t know what I am doing or I am just sick and tired of doing it, I just say, why don’t you just call your Uncle!!!
In a real sense, these young adults, Uncles and Aunts, are role modeling for my children. In turn, my wife and I are role modeling for them. Make no mistake about it, when we’re together everyone is on their best behavior.
It is not uncommon for our adopted family to show up unannounced. (Coincidentally, it is usually around dinner time.) They get a hot meal, we get a change of scenery, the conversation improves and everyone usually ends up happier for it all.
Uncles and Aunts also have a free labor force – when they need help with something in their life, they can call on their adopted nephews and nieces to lend a hand. We help each other, share the work and meet the regular challenges of our lives -together- as a family.
We have taken it a step further, as we have also adopted elders, grandparent types, into our extended family. We welcome the people our society doesn’t know what to do with –-the people who have all the wisdom and life experience. So Grandpa Paul or Larry or Grandma Joan can stop by, tell everyone stories about the good old days, show us some really cool tricks, and some really corny jokes. It’s perfect.
Personally, I look to the elders in my life to keep me in balance, to check what I am doing in the community and in the world. They keep me sincere, patient, humble and moving in the right direction toward my goals and dreams.
With elders at the table, my wife and I, our younger uncles and aunts, and my three sons, we are four generations, an adopted family at the same table. Everyone begins to easily play their part and to act their age.
Now….The magic really begins to happen.
In 2004, David co-founded and, today, is the Executive Director of Wild Earth, where he seeks to help regenerate healthy community culture and create opportunities for people to connect with themselves, each other and the Earth. Prior to founding Wild Earth, David worked as a wealth advisor on Wall Street for twelve years before realizing a life dream – fully sharing in the care and parenting of his three children, and creating a small family farm. Today, the Brownsteins raise dairy cows, goats, chickens, bees and vegetables in season. David also maintains an active counseling practice called Root Connections, where he focuses on helping individuals, couples, groups and business leaders identify and manifest their unique vision. More about David's work.