I’m enjoying having our twin nieces and their parents in town for the first time in over eight years (see my post Scattered Families on A Separate Life). I’ve bemoaned the fact (many times!) that we have no siblings living in this town, and my husband has no siblings in this country. It makes it harder as we have sole responsibility for caring for his parents, we won’t have the companionship of siblings here when we age so will be faced with decisions (friends vs family – perhaps another post to come), and we lose out on relationships with nieces and nephews too.
I was keen to spend as much time with them as I can. And then got thinking the other day about the depth of feeling I have around spending time with and getting to know the girls during the all-to-brief time they’re here in New Zealand. Mostly, in the past, I’ve put this down to the fact that they live so far away. After all, missing them and wanting to see them is a perfectly normal emotion. It’s not just on my side either. I know they feel the loss of not having any relationships with their father’s side of the family. Aside from us and their grandparents, the girls have never met any of them, including their cousins, and I find that really sad.
Then I stepped back, and thought about it some more. Do I feel this way because I don't have children? Or because I don’t have the luxury of having many other children in my life? If I had children myself, would I feel this real need to get to know them, and for them to know me?
I know that I would always want to get to know them, to +an extent. But I doubt that the need would be the same. If I were a parent, my primary relationships with children would be as a mother. But my primary relationships – actually, my only relationships – with children are instead as an aunt through my nieces and nephews, and through a few children of my friends. (Though as friends’ children grow, their parents’ friends see them much less. With nieces and nephews, that relationship always exists.)
And so I feel the loss. I’m not so much mourning the loss of my own children, because I’ve come to terms with that. But I do feel the loss of the relationships with nieces and nephews. They’re my only connection with the next generation, and I value that, when I can get it. They’re the only people who will remember me when I’m gone. I’m not sure that worries me too much – being forgotten, I mean. But it is nice to know that there will be some people after I’m gone who might have valued having me in their lives.
Still, I can’t do much about it. And I know to try to fill that void by pressuring myself or the girls (or other nieces and nephews) to intensify our relationships wouldn’t work for any of us. The best is to take it naturally, and enjoy it when it happens. Which is what I’ve been doing over the last few weeks.