By the way...our mothers are sisters.
September 24, 2012 2:03 PM   Subscribe

I have a bunch of first cousins, aunts, and uncles whom I've never met (or if I did I was too young to remember). Both of my parents had falling outs with their siblings and haven't had contact with them for decades. How can I best connect with these folks without stepping on landmines?

Mid 40s male only child here with parents in 70's. Both parents had fallings out with siblings over $$$. I think with one of them it was a loan that was never repaid, but the rest I have no idea. Years ago I asked my parents what was up with them and they just didn't want to discuss it. Fast forward a couple of decades and here I am in mid-life wanting to know about and maybe even have a relationship with additional family. With the assumption that my parents have no interest in rekindling their family relationships and that they would likely discourage me, how could I best accomplish what I want? I've already Facebook-stalked several of these family members and am thinking of dropping them a quick note. I kinda feel like an adopted child scoping out their bio Moms and Dads. What kind of approach should I take?
posted by teg4rvn to Human Relations (9 answers total)
I too have relatives that I'm not in communication with due to my father failing to be get-along-able. It's been tough since that meant missing out on important family events. I'd suggest you go the Facebook route and more try to connect with the younger members of the family. You know, the ones who aren't directly associated with the falling out and work your way from there. I bet you've got first cousins who are curious about you and the absent members of their family.

Life is too short and precious. It's been hard to reconcile the deaths of my uncles and grandmother with the fact that I was neither present in their lives nor able to pay my respects when they passed. If I could spare you the pain of regret, it's to say please reach out. The bad feeling between your parents and their siblings aren't necessarily yours to inherit.
posted by loquat at 2:12 PM on September 24, 2012

Facebook. All the way. And, yes, drop them a note. Tell them who you are and maybe what little you know of the falling out: "Mom and Dad apparently had some kind of falling out with the family but I don't know anything about what happened or why and I'm just hoping to connect with some people and see who is out there and what they've been up to."

Then, if you've made in-roads with a few people, go for a visit and meet some of the other family who are not on Facebook.

Just don't take it personally if people don't think they want a relationship with you. These kinds of family dramas are poison. Let people go at their own pace.
posted by amanda at 2:52 PM on September 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

I've met a bunch of cousins in similar fashion and some of them have become good friends. Go for it!
posted by mareli at 2:58 PM on September 24, 2012

Facebook, definitely. Under the auspices of genealogical research, I've gathered hundreds of cousins together from various branches of my children's trees. At one point, I fostered a 100th reunion of one branch of the family that had pretty much fallen apart after all of their records had been destroyed in a fire.

Facebook, of course, is just one social network -- get yourself out there and create a community, if you can. You can set up a TNG website, use the public API to host some forums, invite your cousins in, and start swapping stories and setting up meets.
posted by thanotopsis at 3:09 PM on September 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yes, get in touch with your cousins. You were not part of your parents' and their parents' problems whatever they were. We spent a wonderful two weeks with my second cousins and their kids and grandkids in Ireland, people my family kept in slight touch with for more than 100 years since my grandfather left there, but I had somewhat lost touch with for no good reason. We were warmly welcomed, had a great time, and felt totally at home. I only regret not going back sooner as my dad's cousin's wife, who knew so much family and I had met briefly 15 years ago, just passed away this year and I missed seeing her again. Don't put off reaching out to people who may be delighted and touched to hear from you.
posted by mermayd at 3:30 PM on September 24, 2012

Be careful about what you're about to do.

Years of 'their family sucks" could have already warped their feelings towards you. Will you be able to maintain your composure when they mention how your dad is such a swindler?
posted by Kruger5 at 3:37 PM on September 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm from a similar family. My cousins had no idea I existed as of my late 20s. That's how big the gulf was. We're pretty much of the opinion that our parent's generation was "special". Some of them are still quite hostile, some very nice, some right, others wrong, etc. But my cousins are all pretty even headed about it all. Start there. When the past comes up, just nod your head and listen. There's a million sides to the stories and part of the fun of reconnecting is sharing those sides. Try to have a few different ones before you do though. If people think you are taking a position it's a nightmare.

As you build relationships with these folks beyond the bad blood, others may be willing to bring you in. It takes time. I'm pretty sure my aunt will never talk to me. That I exist brings up bad memories, pain, etc. An uncle was overjoyed to make contact again. It's a mixed bag, and email's a nice gentle (and private) way of testing the water.
posted by jwells at 4:12 PM on September 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Facebook, uh huh. There's no hostility in my family, my parents just did a crap job staying well-connected to their siblings. After one of my uncles died a year and a half ago, we adult cousins re-connected at the funeral and have kept in touch over Facebook. It's been really great.

If you're looking for an excuse to drop a message, genealogy is a good way to go. I used a couple years ago to do a family tree for my kid, and my cousins have loved seeing the entries and old photos I posted. I'm no genealogy nut, but it's a decent conversation starter.
posted by looli at 6:22 PM on September 24, 2012

My grandparents had severed relations with several of my grandmother's siblings long ago. In the last 10 or so years most of my generation of cousins have reconnected and some of us have become quite close. Of course all the people feuding are now long dead so there's no one around to be offended by our re-connecting. Facebook has been great for this.
posted by leslies at 7:44 PM on September 24, 2012

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