I’m in the lobby of a hotel in Charlotte, NC. Checked in last night. Apparently, it’s the weekend for the Staples Family reunion. As members arrive, there are shouts of welcome and big bear hugs all around. This scene is repeated over and over, and the enthusiasm never wavers. They have traveled from all over to attend this event. A bystander is curious about the repeated squeals of joy and asks the group outfitted in matching T-shirts: “What’s the name of your group?”. The answer came swiftly: “It’s the Staple Family!” Said with pride and love. Contrast that with the following recent news headlines: “Violent Fight Breaks Out Between Family at Disneyland” and “Fight Breaks Out At Disneyland As Children Look On.” I am not going to cast aspersions on the fighting family. Pretty sure doing so would be of no value. I don’t know them, but I am fairly sure they have suffered quite a bit as a result of the public exposure of the events of that day. I don’t know the backstory but have to say my spirit broke a bit that day. For them, for our community but most importantly for our children.
Just like the Staples, I too recently attended a reunion with my family. Every two years my siblings and I, along with our families, take a week to reconnect. We rent a house and we all stay together. In the same house. Again, just in case you missed it: For a week. This idea started with our mother and her sisters. In their later years my mom and her sisters began having sleepovers to celebrate each other’s birthday. No doubt when they were younger, given their practical nature and the fact that they had husbands, quite a few children amongst them, limited resources and even more limited time, to carve out time just for themselves was not something they would ever consider. However, as the demands of life lessened they started hosting birthday sleepovers at each other’s home.
During those sleepovers there would be lots of laughter, soulful conversations and good food. Something happened during their time together that fed them, and I am not talking about the food. When they returned home the next day they seemed lighter, happier, rejuvenated and better equipped to deal with the rigors of their lives.
As my cousins and I got older we each picked up on our mothers’ example and began having sleepovers (aka reunions) with our siblings. My mother and aunts truly could not have given us a better gift. Through them we learned that family was paramount, and time together was sacred.
I have five siblings. (My oldest brother Henry died four years ago.) During the first week of June we gathered in Virginia Beach for our bi-annual reunion. It is rare that everyone can make it but this year 25 of us stayed in the same house for a week. Family members ranged in age from 2 months to 71. There were lots of late nights with uncontrollable laughter. And nights where we reminisced about our past and shared private hopes for our futures. The kinds of thoughts you can only share with people who you know love you and want only the best for you. I felt secure and free. When the week ended, and we were all saying our goodbyes, the youngest family members were the most reluctant to leave. Tears were shed as final goodbyes were said.
When I got home, no one was safe from me sharing how much fun I had at the reunion. However, as I spoke with others about the reunion, what was unexpected was the reaction I got from friends, colleagues and strangers alike. Many shared that they wished they could have a reunion or gathering with their families. They said this wasn’t possible because one family member no longer got along with another member or this member had no desire to even be in the presence of another member.
That made me think about how our family too has faced some very real relationship challenges. Throughout the years, in our family, feelings have been hurt, misunderstandings have occurred, and anger has raised its ugly head which caused relationships to deteriorate. And truth be told, there have been times I have wanted to lash out in anger at family members and I am fairly sure some of my past actions may have caused others to want to lash out at me. Temporarily. What has made the difference is that we are determined to stay connected and to follow the examples set by our mothers to love one another, even when we don’t feel like showing any outward expression of that love. We know what’s at stake and everyone works hard to be flexible in our beliefs and opinions to protect the family relationship.
I want to encourage you that if you have disagreements with family or have severed ties with those you hold dear, please look inside yourself to see if there is something you can do, some action that you can take or cease to repair those relationships.
With so much going on today, our children need all the support they can get to thrive and do well. (Let’s face it: In today’s society we adults need support more than ever too.) When we have disagreements or actively disconnect from family, the children are paying attention and taking cues on how to handle conflict and disagreements with those who are dear to them.
If a family member is abusive to you or poses a viable threat to you or your immediate family, then yes, make the best call you can to keep your family safe and whole. However, if there are disagreements which stem from differences of opinion or awkward slights (i.e. Shayla wouldn’t let me bring a guest to the wedding or Derrick knows I only eat gluten-free foods and refuses to provide an alternative dessert for me, Shawn owes me money, etc.) you may want to evaluate the true cost of estrangement from those who share your story, your roots.
In today’s society there is so much focus placed on getting healthier. We are admonished to eat better, exercise more and initiate all manner of self-care practices to protect our mental and physical health. Perhaps we should also do a periodic forgiveness check to see if we are harboring unforgiveness towards others which ultimately can and will impact our overall well-being. This unforgiveness may send us places we never intended to go such as incurring illnesses like high blood pressure or ulcers. Or worse. It may render us unable to appropriately manage emotional illness or triggers which make it seem like the only option is to fight publicly, in front of children, in places solely created for them to frolic freely.