Families come in all shapes and sizes, and there’s no perfect standard for how a family should act. On top of that, families don’t have to be blood-related at all to be close, as anyone with cherished stepsiblings or parents will know.
That said, no matter what arrangement you have with your family, it can be nice to consider your own responsibilities within that unit. Family, after all, is not just who you go through life with because you can’t choose anyone else, but those that you have deep friendships with, near-unconditional love for, and perhaps personal and financial entanglements with.
There are many guides out there that discuss how to be a better friend, a better employee, a better boss, and a better parent. But what about being a better relative? You can bet that taking some time to work on this, asking yourself what relative you’d like to be in the first place, and making sure you understand where family fits into your lifestyle can be essential.
In this post, then, we’ll help you achieve exactly that. Without further ado, please consider:
Consider The Responsibilities Of Your Role
It’s important to consider the extent to which you’re responsible for others in your family. As a parent or grandparent, you may have authority over those below you in terms of how you plan your combined day-to-day living, and the experience under your roof.
In general, if members of a family are living in a house you own, they’re under eighteen, and you’re their legal guardian, then you’ll have important caregiving responsibilities and authority over them.
But it’s not just young relatives you may need to support from year to year. This may also include elderly relatives who need help adapting to their homes with mobility issues. Perhaps you’ll use the services of an Elder Law Attorney to make sure they’re protected within the care home they reside in, or become a full-time carer for a relative who needs you.
If anything, knowing the responsibilities of your role will help you understand where to ask for help when you need it. This might include asking your own parents for help with your child-rearing efforts, asking your sibling for help planning the funeral of a loved one or setting some ground rules in the household for mutual respect.
It’s very easy to just assume that you have certain roles as a family member, but that might not be the full picture. As such, considering and even writing down the tasks you want to work on this year can be important. This way, you aim to get the best for people, and in kind, they’ll do the same for you.
Keep Confidential Information, Confidential
Keeping family secrets may seem like a very intensive effort, something that won’t help people get along or the general health of the family. But you’re unlikely to do this in a malicious manner.
For example, it could be that your child has come out to you with a particular sexual orientation, and you’re happy to keep that quiet until they feel comfortable telling everyone else. What matters is striking a balance between minding your business and being trusted by those you’re related to if needs be.
This can help the health of your family by reducing drama, ensuring people feel safe in your presence, and moreover, offering advice when it’s asked for. This isn’t to say you should keep every secret no questions asked, for example if your relative commits a crime then you may decide to expose that.
However, for the most part, families that can trust one another even with the embarrassing or unwanted issues in life, like a relative telling you about their health diagnosis but asking you to stay quiet for now, the better a relative you can be. This is a tough balance to strike, which is why we mention it in this arctic. Deciding your efforts here can help you avoid reacting out of instinct, and instead think through your candor.
Chart Your Family History
As a member of a family you love, it can be nice to chart the history of your surname and any other important details. Ancestry DNA tests can help you learn about your past relatives or where from the world you might hail.
This is all a little bit of fun of course, you may have better or worse success at looking into your genealogy, but if you do find some results, that can be instructive. On top of this, there’s nothing that says you can’t start now and lay down some interesting tokens for those that come after you.
For instance, coming up with a family motto you like, designing a crest as they used to in the old days, or leaving a time capsule in your garden can all be a little fun. Who knows, perhaps in two hundred years someone will look back at your documentation and learn about you and your relatives, your hopes and dreams, where you lived, and how many of you there were.
It’s very easy to think of a family line as just now, whatever is present, but that’s not the case at all. You likely have people close to you that you miss to this date, be that old grandparents or other relatives you lost. Taking some time to remember them through the preservation of photographs and mementos can be lovely. Posterity is important, because one day, they will be here in whatever form.
Managing Your Familial Relationships
Family members are also their own people, of course, which means that some you’ll get alone with, and some you won’t. What matters is trying not to stir up any unnecessary drama to estrange people or cause them to “choose sides.” Unfortunately, this can happen to many families, and that’s never enjoyable.
However, there’s no shame in being part of a given family and choosing to step away from one aspect of it. Ultimately, family is something you should feel happy about having obligations to, not tied to without your consent (except for those you care for, of course, like your children).
In this way, you can be realistic about managing yourself as a relative. If you’re getting married but know that one side of the family is liable to cause trouble, you’re under no legal requirement to invite them.
It can also be wise to act as a mediator where appropriate, or simply to show proper conduct. It’s unfortunately common for families to fight over that which is left over in the will of lost family members.
Be Forgiving Where Possible
Perhaps one of the main benefits of family is that you’re accepting, able to relate to one another, on each other’s side, and caring even if you don’t fully understand. That’s of course an atmosphere that only occurs if you contribute to it, which is why trying to be forgiving and empathetic to your family can be important.
It might be that a relative is struggling with a mental health condition, for example. You might not have all the resources or time to deal with this if an acquaintance or lesser friend undergoes this, but family may inspire you to extent a little more of a supportive reach, perhaps taking them in, helping them find the help they need, or simply putting in a word of encouragement.
This doesn’t mean you should allow yourself to be taken advantage of in certain situations, but it does mean being empathetic and caring to those who need it. When you cultivate that view in your family, family feels closer, more interconnected, as if they’re on the same team.
Share Family Stories & Keep Up Traditions
It’s also nice to include your family members in the general story of your well-being and development. This might sound obvious, but it’s easy to forget about this until you make time for it.
The next time you’re together, you might show your loves ones your family pictures, holiday snaps, letters that you kept from when your parents met, and more. Archiving video of your children’s school play or athletic performances, or recording Christmas celebrations with your loved ones so you can watch this in future all counts, too.
It can also be nice to keep up traditions. You might not be a religious family, but keep up with certain holidays because they’re important to you all the same. It’s nice to have that shared narrative you can fit together with those you love, as this helps you develop into an interconnected, well-meaning family over time.
Remain Dependable & Trustworthy
Ultimately, the main virtue of being a good relative is to be trustworthy. This might involve being there for all family events, supporting others where needed, and not being afraid to ask for help if you really do require it.
If you can do that, and always be on your family’s team, then you’ll be a good relative. No matter if you’re a father, mother, son, brother, sister, daughter, auntie, uncle, or just someone who has become an honorary member of a family given how much time you spend with them, having that set of priorities really does make a difference.
With this advice, you’re sure to be a better relative in every way that counts. However, remember that for any of this to work, you also have to spend time with your family and loved ones. That, above all else, will benefit everyone in your family.