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Challenge: What Makes a Family?

A Family Isn't Static

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Twenty-three years ago my husband and I were expecting our first baby and preparing to move halfway across the country. The night before our movers came I remember being wistful that our couple years were over. A phase of our family life was ending, and I was sad. I had loved our couple time, and I hated to see it end. That night it occurred to me that some time in the distant future I would be sad that our expected baby had grown up and made us empty-nesters. I resolved to soften the blow of the anticipated empty-nest by remembering how much I loved our life when it was just my husband and me.

Of course, now I know that the couple time was just one phase in the evolution of our family. We added our first baby, and then our second, our third, and our fourth. Each time before a new baby’s birth, I would be anxious and wonder if it was all a big mistake. Our family was fine – we loved each other and we were happy. Why was I messing up perfectly good family dynamics? Each time, though, as soon as the baby was born I knew someone precious, who had been missing from our family, had arrived.

Over the years I began to understand that a family isn’t static. A family goes through changes and stages. We are always evolving, but we are always still a family, and I have loved us in every single stage.

I loved the double stroller stage and the no stroller phase. I loved being a mom of all boys, and I loved when we added our girl. I loved being a stay at home mom with four kids at home, and I love being a working mom with one kid left at home. Each phase of our family has been good and memorable because each phase of our family has been filled with love, respect, tears, and laughter.

Knowing this, I think I will love the next stages for our family, too. One day our sons and daughter will bring home a spouse and after that, grandchildren – hopefully a lot! I know from experience that the time leading up to those changes will fill me with nostalgia for the way things were, but I also know from experience that once a new family member arrives, it will feel just right. We will think, oh – that’s who’s been missing.

Adding an in-law might feel more stressful than adding a new baby, but I’ve been thinking about how I can make it easier.

I have thought of some things it will be helpful for any new Paschal to know:

  • Eastern NC BBQ, but we are open to South Carolina mustard sauce.
  • SEC Football – the Gamecocks in particular.
  • There will be movie quotes – lots of them.
  • Stuffing, not dressing except for when we do both, but always, always, always mashed potatoes.
  • We like musicals, and documentaries, and comedians.
  • We love to laugh, and we tell good stories.
  • Pirates not the Cubs; Red Sox not the Yankees; and Steelers except for when it’s the Panthers – we have our reasons.
  • Christmas means a lot of things, but it always means movies – old and black & white, plus new and funny.
  • There will be Seinfeld quotes, and movie quotes, and comedian punchlines.
  • Some of us aren’t very good sports when playing board games.
  • Pizza is a must, and it must be the closest thing to a real NY pizza possible.
  • The Masters Tournament - every year - with homemade pimento cheese and homemade Arnie Palmies on Sunday.
  • Easter isn’t about the candy.

I don’t blame myself for being wistful that long ago night when I realized our couple days were over, but I do think that if I could have seen into the future that night, I wouldn’t have been able to sleep with excitement and anticipation for all the joy to come. In fact, I feel that way right now.

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Maureen Paschal is a freelance writer, a teacher-librarian, and a mom of four almost grown kids. She blogs at Raising The Capable Student where her goal is helping parents to keep family life a priority and school success in perspective. Her work has been featured in On Parenting from the Washington Post, Grown and Flown, Perfection Pending, and Today Parents.

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