When Do You Hit Peak Family?

Sort of an introspective post today. Tomas has a little over a year and a half left until he graduates and can go on a mission. I have a niece out on a mission now, and quite a few other nieces and nephews who are already out on their own. So it’s becoming increasingly clear that this family Denisa and I have spent sixteen years putting together is going to spend the next while getting scattered to who knows where.

Which is the point of having kids. I get it. I’m not living with my parents anymore, after all. Denisa’s not even in the same country as her family. You have kids and do your best to give them a good childhood and a good base to launch themselves off into whatever it is they want to do. But it’s still definitely bittersweet. This pandemic time has been a great opportunity to spend time together as a family, and I think we’ve at least used it well for that purpose.

But it all has been reflecting back on when I was growing up, and what time of my life I’d consider “peak family,” meaning the gang was all assembled, and things were clipping along at full speed, without any slowing down for the upcoming departures ahead.

At first, I would think peak family is reached right before the oldest child heads off to college or out of the house or wherever. After all, that’s the point in time when everyone is as mature as they’re going to get when they’re all under one roof. But the more I think back on my time growing up, the more I’m not sure that’s right. Kids don’t leave the house all at once. They become increasingly independent, so that they’re out of the house on their own more and more as the years go by. School activities. Jobs. Hanging out with friends. Until this pandemic hit, Tomas was out and about as much as Denisa or I was. Maybe more. Daniela was also getting a pretty full schedule, between sports and music and time with her friends.

So is the peak earlier than that? Maybe it’s when everyone’s still mostly one unit, doing everything together at all times? In that case, it would probably come when the oldest child’s in middle school or junior high. Still too young to be left alone for long swathes of time. Especially not when there are very young children at home to be watched. Sure, they might go out to a birthday party now and then, but for the most part, it’s all for one and one for all.

But that doesn’t really feel entirely right, either. Part of the real joy of being a parent (for me) has come from watching my kids grow up. Getting glimpses of who they’re going to be when they’re adults. Younger kids have their own personalities, no doubt, but they’re also really dependent on what you want and like. Case in point: Tuesday night we let Tomas and Daniela choose what they wanted to do. Tomas played some computer games with his friends, but Daniela decided she wanted to watch a movie. “An old movie. Something really good, like His Girl Friday.” She’s really developing into a movie buff on her own. We watched “Bringing Up Baby,” and she thought it was fantastic. Because it is. Seriously.

So can you really feel like your family is at its peak when the kids are still dominated by the parents?

The more I think about the question, the more convinced I am that “peak family” is an illusion. A family is always in flux, and trying to hold on to any part of it and think of it as “Well, this is it. This is the peak, and it’s all downhill from here” isn’t just depressing. It’s wrong. But you feel like it’s right, because as a kid, your family can feel like it’s a constant. Like it’s always been there and always will be there, and so when it starts changing, that can be kind of disturbing. But as a parent, you know that it’s always been changing. First it was just Denisa and me. Then we added Tomas four years later, than Daniela four years after that and MC five years after that. Heck, even adding Ferris to the mix has been a change for our family.

And has the family I grew up with even reached its peak yet? That’s so hard to define. We’ve lost members along the way. Uncles. Step mothers. Grandparents. But we’ve also added members through marriages and births. I’m not as close to all of them as I have been in the past, but when we get together, there’s still that real bond, and social media, for all its flaws, does a pretty good job keeping us all connected.

I suppose, in the end, a family is very much like the seasons. There are definite stages to it, though there will be cold days in summer and warm days in winter, and the boundaries between those stages can really be muddled. So maybe you can have “peak autumn” and “peak spring,” but there will be other peaks in between and afterward. If you get too tied up in trying to identify which stage you’re in at any one time and worrying about it going away, then you miss out on actually enjoying where you are in the moment.


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