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The Big Picture on Families
By Susan Hines-Brigger


Church as Family
Celebrate Family
For Teens: Stay Connected
For Kids: Getting to Know Your Family

Beginning with Thanksgiving, most families are going to be spending a lot of time together in the coming months—for good and for bad. Let’s face it, families can be tricky.

In fact, for the first five years of our marriage—and sometimes still—my husband, Mark, couldn’t figure out my family. It wasn’t because they did anything out of the ordinary, but mostly because he couldn’t quite figure out exactly who was in my family and who wasn’t.

For instance, my Aunt Ellie was not my biological aunt. She was my mom’s lifelong best friend. Same for my Uncle Johnny. He was my dad’s best friend. My kids call my best friend Aunt Teri.

But I guess it never struck me as out of the ordinary because, for me, family has always been more about relationships and less about blood and biology. Perhaps that comes from the fact that my oldest sister, Beth, is adopted. So while we may not share the exact same genes, we certainly do share the same memories and a whole lot of love.


Church as Family

Families can take on many different shapes and sizes. In fact, as Catholics we consider the Church as part of our family. And many of our rituals we celebrate as family, such as the Eucharist and gathering for Mass each week and on holy days.

The concept of Church as family became extremely clear to me this past summer when the son of a parishioner was seriously injured playing football. The parish—especially his friends—immediately rallied around him and his family. It was a beautiful experience of family at its best. And it’s an experience that I have witnessed time and time again within my parish, my workplace, my neighborhood, etc. Most of the time we are not related by blood, but “my family” certainly includes people from these communities.

Celebrate Family

So as you gather for the holidays with family (in both the most literal and broadest sense of the word), celebrate those surrounding you. Here are some suggestions:

• Pull out the family tree. The holidays are a perfect time to fill in the holes in your family’s history. Pull out old family photo albums and make sure you know who the people in the pictures are for posterity’s sake. Ask family friends and relatives questions or have them recall stories from their youth.

• Capture the here-and-now. Take lots of pictures, tell stories and even pull out the video camera.

• Gather family around. If you haven’t had a family reunion in a while, why not plan one for next year? Sure, they’re a lot of work, but it will be worth it. Engage some other relatives to help with the planning.

• Share the news. With the Christmas season right around the corner, you’ll be getting ready to send Christmas cards. Many cards are sent to people whom you don’t often see throughout the year. So this year, why not create a Christmas newsletter to update people on what’s been going on with your family? You might also want to include some pictures.

• Pay a visit. Schedule a visit with family members whom you haven’t seen in a while.

• Count your blessings. With the holidays upon us, take this opportunity to celebrate your families—all of them. And let them know what a blessing to you they are.


For Teens: Stay Connected

Teenage years can be tricky when it comes to family. It is a time when you are trying to establish your independence, but are still very much connected to your family. And the truth is, you always will have that very strong connection, no matter how difficult it may be at times. So why fight it?

Cherish the things that your family has to offer and try to connect with individual family members. For instance, if your aunt shares a similar interest or passion with you, such as movies, ask if she’d like to see a movie sometime. If you love to read, ask one of your parents if they’d like to start a little book club.

Connecting with family members on a personal level may allow you to see them in a different light and make the trying times a little less trying.

For Kids: Getting to Know Your Family

Everyone knows things about their family, like how many brothers or sisters they have, how many pets and what their house looks like, but how much do you really know about your family?

For instance, what is your mom’s favorite movie? Does your dad have a favorite sport? What type of music does your brother or sister like? What was your grandpa’s occupation? How did your mom and dad meet?

Write down a list of similar questions and set aside a time for your family to sit down and answer them. Your family may even be able to come up with more questions.

Thanksgiving might be a good time to ask questions of extended family members such as grandparents, aunts and uncles, or cousins. Once you get everyone’s answers, write them down—or have someone help you—and collect them in a folder or binder. Draw some pictures to help illustrate this book about your family. You might even want to make copies for everyone and give them as Christmas gifts.


Do you have ideas or suggestions for topics you'd like to see addressed in this column? If so, send them to me at “Faith-filled Family,” 28 W. Liberty Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202-6498, or e-mail them to

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