Building family relationships

9 June 2011
As many of you know, our family is going through a renewal at the moment.  Both my parents and Hanno's have died, we are getting older and now, happily, our children are having their babies. Times marches on. There is nothing more important to me than being surrounded by a happy, productive and inclusive family. It makes the future seem brighter, it makes me feel strong and resilient and I can be my best when I feel content and the family is happy.

My sister Tricia with baby Jamie.

Of course, I'm not saying that every single day goes according to plan and that everyone always agrees with everyone else; that would be untruthful, and maybe just a bit boring and unrealistic. But the kind of family life I work towards is for us all to celebrate our diversity and be supportive of our differing aspirations, while the family remains united. If we do that most of the time, our lives together will be enriched by the times we spend together and we will stay connected.

But this is an ever-evolving process that needs work, particularly now that our roles are changing - our children and their partners are becoming parents and Hanno and I are becoming grandparents, in addition to being parents. Change tends to mix it up a bit. One of the things I always do is to try and think outside myself and to put myself in the shoes of my DILs. I was in awe of my MIL, she was a strong woman and we didn't speak the same language. There was affection there but I doubt there was love. I only knew her for a couple of years before she died, but I like to think that had we spent more time together, we would have been much closer. And I guess that is why I often focus on my relationships with my girls. I want to love them because my sons love them but I also want to love them because I just can't help it. I want them to love me too.  And I think that has happened.

With the family as a whole it's difficult sometimes and very easy at others. I am at the point of my life when I believe most of my teaching about values, truth, respect and loyalty has been done and, happily, I see the fruits of that earlier work often played out before me. What I'm doing now is being quieter and just living true to my values. I give advice only when asked for it, I presume everyone knows right from wrong and that given a chance and a bit of time, they'll work out a solution based on their values and fine-tuned to suit their unique needs.

My way isn't the only way. I've stopped telling. 

I'm always thinking about ways to strengthen our family and now that we have babies arriving I want to start a new tradition. I've asked everyone and they love the idea. When it is not as cold but not too hot, we're going to have a family preserving day. We're all going to buy boxes of cheap fruit or vegetables, save our old jars and spend a full day together making jams, sauces and kimchee. There will be a big lunch served and everyone will go home with good quality food in jars for the coming months. In future years we might make elderberry wine or ginger beer or sourdough or cheese - all to be shared and taken to our various homes. As the children grow, they'll learn these skills and, I hope many years from now, will pass them on to their children. It will be a family preserving day in more ways than one.

So what happens now, do we all say "well done, we nailed that" and be done with it? No, we are a family that will evolve over time and now we have babies to nurture. This is ongoing work. Sometimes it will be easy to love each other, sometimes it will be harder. But we always have to remember our love and strength, talk about it, show it, be there when we should be and gone at other times, and take each day as it comes. We are people living in difficult times and that will test our family unit, but because we're so close, I can't imagine much we won't get through.


  1. What a great idea! I think a "Family Preserving Day" is such a good idea.It makes the work easier with many hands helping and to pass down that information and experience is priceless! I am going to try this in my family,too.
    We are close to where you and Hanno are,both my in-laws are gone and although my parents are still here,their health is not good.We have 4 grandchildren and just love being with them and seeing the world anew in their eyes.Life is definitely good!! Different,but good!! Darlene

  2. My daughter loves to come over and make jam or christmas cookies. I plan to include my son's fiance' this year, hopefully she'll enjoy it too.

    On a side note, I think it's important we teach our kids how to cook and preserve because we don't know what kind of world they will have to live in when we're gone, and I want mine to be prepared.

  3. A family preserving day (in more ways than one!) What a great idea.

  4. A great posy Rhonda an just a wonderful scenario that we would all love.It all depends on the girls the boys love as well,I was not so lucky,sometimes such a bruised heart but the years have made things a lot better, my DIL lost her Mum and Dad very closely only then were we allowed into her heart,I have loved always,it was very hard sometimes as we were not included in anything the christening of the first baby the hardest,no nurses for us and no photo,o'h there have been buckets of tears over the years,BUT I was persistant and now I hear "I love you"on the phone as they are a distance away and when i hear my boy tell me how he loves us I just think how much time was wasted.I think families are the hardest work but the greatest joy and we just have to keep chipping away,God fixes things in his time as he did with us and patience is the key.Thanks Rhonda I would love those days you have planned,they sound wonderful.By the way we got to be in the next 2 babies christenings and everything else.

  5. Your post makes me cry. How beautifully put. My children are growing up right before my eyes and I am desperate to pack as much in as I can with each of them.
    You are now in the phase of your life of reaping all that you have sowed!

  6. Just reading this post makes me feel stronger and important as a woman and as a mother to my growing girls.
    Sometimes we get carried away in the living of day to day and forget to focus on the quality of that living.
    Your words give me a new sense of purpose in ways I had not dwelt on before.

    Thank you,
    Trinidad & Tobago

  7. Ideas and ones view of things does change as we get older. I knew my mother in law for 30 years. She was a good woman and a good MIL. However on our very first meeting when I asked her could I help her in the kitchen she gave me the job of peeling a queensland blue pumpkin- very hard skinned. I took that as a sign she did not like me.
    Fast forward 30 years . My future daughter in law visits. She offers her help in the kitchen and I get her to cut a whole jap pumpkin. Not because I don't like her but because my wrists are weak now. Yes all of a sudden I saw it from the other side .

  8. Handling transitions like you have recently are pivotal moments in the life of a family and can strenthen its bonds. Change is not always welcomed or easy.

    You are right about seizing the moment ('carpe diem') and making the most of it. I have just witnessed friends who've lost their husbands suddenly. Life can change in the blink of an eye, so to speak. We don't know what tomorrow will bring, but I am thankful to know the One who does. (Not trying to sound holier-than-thou...far from it as I'm not like that)

    Enjoy all of your family time and making new memories.

  9. that would be my kind of family

  10. Miss Rhonda, I love your idea, but I must say baby boy Jamie is sure getting chunky :) Espy

  11. You sound like a wise MIL. My MIL is like that - always finding things to compliment and withholding advice unless asked for. She also only comments on the nice things about our children. My mother on the other hand...makes mistakes in those areas that make me glad to see her go. I've learned which kind I want to be, as our boys are nearing marriageable age now.

  12. What a lovely and thought provoking post.I love the idea of the preserving day and have been thinking along those lines myself, but as 2 of my girls live in Melbourne I'm going to invite my daughter who lives up here and my friends, I already have one taker!

  13. This is such a good reminder to me to teach my girls and my son to preserve and how to make all the jams and chutneys etc that I now make that they love so much!
    You are so right, family is so precious

  14. What a lovely idea Rhonda, some of us have children that live far away, and we can still create family traditions thanks to the internet. I think the most important thing we can let our children know is that we love them. It is hard sometimes when we see them doing things differently to the way we used to. Letting them feel their own way through life with our support though is a big part of love. You are a wonderful example to your DIL's.

  15. I come from an Italian background, so I can attest that preserving days, or "working bee" days, are a great way to form bonds and have fun together. Our family has grape picking days, and one day a year when we make sausages and salamis, with three generations involved. They are highlights of the year, with plenty of work, good food and laughter.

    Your comments re mother-in-lawhood struck a chord with me. After nearly 20 years marriage, I do not feel close to my MIL, as I never felt I "measured up" to her standards and am constantly scrutinised for poor behaviour! Sigh. In constrast, I envy the relationship my mum has with my three sisters-in-law. She has struck the right balance of involvement in their lives and stepping back. She also keeps her counsel and never gives unsolicited advice! All three tell me they have the best MIL in the world. That's what I will aim for when the time comes.

  16. Hello everyone!

    Paola, I came up with my plan with thoughts of the wonderful Italian traditional salami and sauce days in mind. It certainly is a wonderful tradition.

  17. I love what you wrote about nurturing the diversity within the family and the particular gifts of each individual. I think strong families are diverse and self-secure families that provide safe havens as well as launching pads!

    This Good Life

  18. What fabulous idea for a new family tradition. Rhonda, you are full of wonderful ideas. I'm sure your family love and appreciate you for being you.


  19. Oh, Rhonda, I love this bit of wisdom...
    "What I'm doing now is being quieter and just living true to my values. I give advice only when asked for it, I presume everyone knows right from wrong and that given a chance and a bit of time, they'll work out a solution based on their values and fine-tuned to suit their unique needs."

    You are so wise.

    My boys are 4 and 8. I pray that one day I will have the opportunity to be a blessing to their girlfriends and/or wives.

    Such an inspirational post. You bring tears to my eyes.

    I love you!

  20. I love your idea of a family preserving day day i had a baking day with a family member and it was just the most beautiful day. Also think you are on the right track with your daughter in laws mother in law is very similar to you in many ways and I feel her love no matter how far away she is, I know that no matter when I call her that she will be there for me in so many ways.

  21. "What I'm doing now is being quieter and just living true to my values. I give advice only when asked for it, I presume everyone knows right from wrong and that given a chance and a bit of time, they'll work out a solution based on their values and fine-tuned to suit their unique needs."

    If only all MILs were like this.....

  22. Hi Rhonda, I really like your idea of a family preserving day.
    A couple of years ago we started a 'family supper' night on a Monday. My son and DIL, my MIL and three other children (17, 20 and 22) all make an effort to be there, as well anyone else staying with us or my DIL's parents and sibling if they are in town. I cook a wholesome two or three course meal. This works really well as the nuclear family all live in the same city, and those who do not live with us do not have to cook that evening. (part of the attraction) We have 7 to 12 people at the meal.

  23. I love this post Rhonda, and I love you and Hanno. I am lucky to be in your family. I'm so looking forward to the Family preserving day. I'm sure Hanno's mum would love you just as much as we all do if she was still here. Xx

  24. A wonderful and thoughtful post Rhonda.

    Like you, I have two grown up sons. I want my relationships with their lovely girls to be so much easier and more natural than my often difficult relationship with my late Mother-in-Law. So far, it has been more about "gaining daughters" rather than "losing sons", and like you, I love them because I can`t help it!

    That is such a beautiful photo of your sister with the new baby.

  25. I love what you said about your DILs. My mother was great about not giving advice unless asked. My MIL...not so much and it's been difficult. I've made a promise to myself to treat my future DIL like a friend---another grownup who knows what she's doing and doesn't need another mom (unless she asks for it!). Here's hoping we can both stick to our plans!

  26. That's a beautiful idea, my husband is Italian, and it reminds me of their 'sauce day'...we started sauce day at our home this year, my children had a day off of school and we all worked together to put down the 100 or so bottles tomatoe sauce for the coming year...I hope that my children will learn from their father, as my husband has, and carry the tradition on....I would love to have shared this day with some of my friends and their families too...maybe we will next year...imagine how much sauce you could make with three or four families worth of 'hands to help'...amazing...and fun..xx

  27. This is a lovely post Rhonda. I am hoping to be a similar mother-in-law someday to my children's partners, having experienced what it is like to not "meet the grade" with my own mother in law.

  28. That is such a lovely, lovely post. I do hope that one day I too can say "most of my teaching about values, truth, respect and loyalty has been done and, happily, I see the fruits of that earlier work often played out before me." Right now I am in the thick of it with my primary schoolers!

    I also love the idea of the family preserving day. How wonderful to have such a close family, and then for everyone to take a bit of it home with them - I especially love the idea of the sourdough that keeps becoming new bread eac week.

  29. Rhonda, I love the idea of a 'preserving day'. It reminds me of a TV series that you talked about watching in Aus, where a chef (can't remeber his name, but I thought he was a Brit) went into the homes of families who had set up in Australia after leaving their home countries. I especially remember you highlighting the italian family 'sauce day', preserving the tomato crop (as also referenced by Enchanted Moments). That series was great - i also liked the Korean 'Moon cake' episode too. (I also got a buzz out of sitting in our local library watching Australian TV!!!) Here's to keeping old traditions, and starting new ones too!

    Dinah, UK


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