It’s that time of the year—when cookouts, get-togethers, family reunions, and family functions are on and poppin’! While for many people the thought of family gatherings evokes joy, laughter, love, and happiness (shoutout to Al Green), for others the thought of family unleashes a flood of anxiety, trauma, and angst. And then there are those who vacillate between the two poles. Regardless of how we feel about our families, we find ourselves at the same family functions with our baggage in tow. Human beings are complicated, y’all! So how do we navigate the tension of these disparate feelings about family?
Far too often, we want quick fixes to complicated family dynamics, but no two families are alike so a one-size-fits-all approach will not do. That would just leave us dissatisfied and with our issues unaddressed. Moreover, we can honor our place within our family systems—and honor our family as a collective—by reimagining what family means.
Our people have always had an expansive view of family that transcends blood, biology, and genes. Fictive kinship ties are those bonds we create with friends, neighbors, and acquaintances-turned-aces who become like family. Think about all the play cousins, play aunties, and play uncles you grew up with and love to this day—that’s fictive kinship, y’all! We ain’t new to this.
Even for those who have great family relationships and get hype by the thought of pulling up at the cookout, fictive kinship is a bonus. I’ve got so many play aunties, uncles, and cousins that I hardly know which ones I’m related to by blood and which ones I’m related to by love over the course of time. It’s what we do, and it’s a gift for those who have fraught and strained connections with blood relatives.
If you’re someone who gets triggered by the thought of going to family functions, boundaries are key. As I often say, boundaries protect what is sacred. Your well-being, mental health, and wellness are sacred. If your family dynamics are a cocktail of toxicity, pain, and trauma, erecting healthy boundaries will be of paramount importance. Unfortunately, when conversations about boundaries with family arise, there’s a tendency to think that it isn’t out of love. But it’s quite the opposite because love requires discipline, prudence, wisdom, and self-control.
Nowadays, many of us live far away from our biological families. So even if we have good familial bonds, the geographical boundaries keep us physically apart. I’m in the number of those who’ve lived far away from biological family for many years, so I’ve had to be intentional about connecting with family from afar while also adopting a more expansive view of what family can be.
Doing the imaginative work of constructing my own village to support and love one another is one of the ways that I’ve learned to live out Jesus’ second greatest commandment, love your neighbor as yourself. No other commandment is greater than these (Mark 12:31). When we gather together with our chosen friends, they become family—they become aunties and uncles to our children, and their children become play cousins to our own.
Ultimately, it is God who has the most expansive view of family. For He sent His son Jesus Christ to die for us, so that we would no longer be enemies of God but beloved children of God, adopted into God’s family where Jesus is not ashamed to call us his siblings. Jesus modeled this expansive view of family for us throughout His earthly ministry. Even as Jesus hung on the cross, nearing His final breaths, John says:
When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.” John 19:26-27
May we follow in Jesus’ radically imaginative footsteps and that of His disciple and do likewise.
What do you do to maintain family connection and cultivate kinship with your folks–near and far?Leave a Comment
Kitwanda Reeves says
I try to acknowledge all Birthdays directly in phone connecting contact, not just social media.
Also, I still send Christmas cards via snail mail.
I never realized what it really means to sit at the table of family to commune and break bread. It is sacred to The Black Family Bond.
I’m praying for the day when we can cook, commune and connect to ourselves as a family.
Ekemini Uwan says
I love how intentional you are with picking up the phone to give a birthday greeting and sending Christmas cards, too! I sent Christmas cards last year, and my friends and family were so touched by it.
This was a wonderful piece and timely for me as I head off to my family reunion. God modeled everything we need! Applying the word to this was powerful!
Ekemini Uwan says
Thank you very much, Andrea! I’m glad that it resonated with you, and I hope when you’re with your family, you’re reminded of God’s grand and expansive vision of family. Enjoy your family time!
Jeanne Murchison says
I try to maintain contact either through Facebook, phone calls, trading household and personal items.
Ekemini Uwan says
That’s great, Jeanne! It takes more effort to keep in touch, but it’s worth it. When we look back over our lives, we will be glad we did so!
Teresa Amos says
Yes! It is indeed a family affair. After reading the passage, a thought came to mind that piqued my curiosity. I began to wonder if we as a people realize that we are all bound by one source. I was able to visualize what the writer described. I remember my family reunions and how I could not wait for the following family function. Nowadays, people do not get together as a family; however, many extended family members are in attendance. I surmise that people have gotten away from traditional family affairs and adopted new, close friends and coworkers.
Ekemini Uwan says
Yes, we sure are bound by one source: God. All of our lives are bound up together because of this, which is why it does matter how we treat one another. We need to love our neighbors as ourselves. It’s easy to forget that our family members are our neighbors, too! Thank you for this reflection, Teresa!