Family and keeping in touch

One thing I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is family. I grew up surrounded by family and attended family gatherings for everything ranging from Christmas to birthdays to Fourth of July. We would cram the whole family into my grandparents’ kitchen and living room and garage, pretending to get along while eating enough food for a small army.

Thanks to a combination of my dad and his brother’s seven-year age difference and my dad’s remarriage and fathering my brother and me ten years after his first child and my uncle’s two daughters, my younger brother is the only person near my age at these family events. The aforementioned previous generation of children had their own children very young, staggering my family’s generations so that besides my brother, the family members closest to my age were more likely ten years apart. As a kid, this gap felt unusually wide.

As I’ve grown older, most of these family connections have dissolved for various reasons. I’ve learned that life is short and that staying in touch with the ones I love is more important than ever; you never know when someone leaves forever. This should be a good enough reason to reach out to family on my own instead of waiting for them to talk to me. I still think of how I could have kept in touch with my grandmother more regularly, and I ate lunch with her every day when we lived almost next door to each other.

Even though my parents and brother aren’t bad relatives, for some reason I find keeping in touch with my family to be unusually difficult. I’ve already written about my difficulties in maintaining contact with friends, but family communication is a whole other can of worms altogether. I’ve come up with a few reasons for this.

We don’t have much in common. I’ve always been the black sheep of the family thanks to my interest in books and school, and none of my relatives shared these interests with me. As a child, I devoured all the books I could get my hands on, from encyclopedias to medical books to things actually written for kids. Heck, I’m the first person in my family to graduate from college. To be fair, despite the high expectations, my family praised and encouraged these interests.

I am terrible at small talk. Not much else to say here, but small talk is one of the banes of my social existence. I’m fine with short conversations with strangers, such as chitchatting while a cashier rings up my stuff. But with people I know, or when the length of the conversation is unknown? Forget about it. This point goes back to not having much in common with my family, but there’s more than that. One small example: I hear a lot about my mom’s work and her coworkers when I talk to her. But working remotely with very few coworkers means these stories are few and far between.

I feel like I’m constantly being judged. I know rationally that they’re probably not; my family just cares about my well-being. But I still can’t shake the feeling, which is why I find myself limiting what little I talk about to start with. That’s just how I am. I didn’t tell them about the last person I dated because of this judging, even though I’m well into adulthood and we had dated for over a year.

My family thinks I’m busy. This is a reason my mom gave for not being in touch with me more often, or for coming down to visit me–I still owe her a trip to the big Asian food store, among other things. And while it’s true that I do have something resembling a social life, I also have a lot of interests that don’t automatically scream “Hello, I am socializing!” For instance, I’m writing this post from a new coffee shop in my neighborhood as an attempt to combine writing and exploring my own figurative backyard. But sometimes I need that unstructured alone time to write and read and pursue other projects without interacting with other people.

I’m not sure what to do when I visit. I always bring my laptop and phone (and now Kindle) when I visit them, but I don’t really do anything when I’m up there. I eat meals with my family, sure, but the rest of that time doesn’t really resemble family bonding time. It mostly consists of everyone doing their own thing, but with one more person around. But since my parents’ house is very familiar, I find getting anything done to be difficult.

Sure, they’re on Facebook, but… We already know how I feel about Facebook. I can see the case for Facebook: it makes communicating with family and friends easy… when you actually see their updates.

I guess my question here is “What frequency of family contact is normal?” Should I feel like a bad person when I don’t stay in touch? And while the obvious solution is to suck it up and keep in touch, what else can I do about this?

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