Let’s Talk About Family!

horseheader11.jpgGood Morning!

 Hope that you are all doing very, very well on this beautiful day of 9 October 2007!  Today I thought I’d open up the discussion to talk about a part of our books that is quite a natural offshoot of that gorgeous hunk that we see on the covers of our books, and that gorgeous, wonderful man that we married.

Often today when we think of family, we might consider it in terms of our immediate family, that is, our husband/wife, children, mother, father, brothers, sisters, grandparents.  Many of us might even think of family only in terms of husband/wife, children, since that is where we live and where our attention is directed so much of the time.  Here’s some of my direct family:


My wonderful husband in an oh, so romantic pose and my son-in-law, Patrick; daugher, Alyssa; and daughter, Trina

 But today, I thought I’d share with you the Native American concept of family…and sometimes, you might even say clan.   In Native America, the immediate family consisted not only of one’s children, husband/wife, sisters or brothers, etc., it also composed of anyone related no matter how distantly.  That is to say:  uncles, aunts, nephews, nieces, cousins (no matter how distant).  In fact, anything that could be traced to a shared ancestor was considered one’s immediate family.   It also included special relationships — adoption, god-children, etc.

Here’s some of my more of my immediate family:

family1.jpgbrotherandwife1.jpgnephewandwife1.jpg galler81.jpgnephewandwife21.jpg

From left to right — niece and her husband, Mike, me, mother-in-law, Joyce; grand-niece, Rosena and of course, my husband.  Then next picture is my brother, Jim and his wife; my nephew Kurt and his wife; brother-in-law, Bob and last picture is my nephew Greg and his wife.

Then we have my extended family:


From left to right Samantha (sitting) and Patricia combing her nieces hair; next picture Grandfather George & me; next picture Pat, Patricia and me; next picture my god-grandchildren, Tiara and Chase. 

As a matter of fact, most tribes were really clans of a sort, almost all were related and hunted and camped together.  In those tribes where there were distinct clans, one was never permitted to marry inside his or her own clan, no matter how distantly related.

It was the break up of the extended family that probably, more than any other factor, percepitated the downfall of the Native American culture in the latter part of the 19th Century and early 20th Century.  The Dawes Act in the late 19th Century contributed greatly to this, by redefining the definition of “family” to mean only husband/wife and children, and then granting land to only one’s “immediate” family.  It struck at the root of Native American culture.

Which brings me to the topic that I thought we might discuss today.  First, I’d love to hear about your family and how your family is doing in this, our modern world.  And second (and this might be slightly controversial) do you, in your opinion, believe that we, like the Native American of the late 19th Century, have our very roots under attack today?  By roots, I mean the traditional family unit.  Some say yes, some say no.  What is your opinion?

So come on in and join our discussion.

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KAREN KAY aka GEN BAILEY is the multi-published author of American Indian Historical Romances. She has written for such prestigious publishers as AVON/HarperCollins, Berkley/Penguin/Putnam and Samhain Publishing. KAREN KAY’S great grandmother was Choctaw Indian and Kay is honored to be able to write about the American Indian Culture.
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23 thoughts on “Let’s Talk About Family!”

  1. Having researched and written a trilogy with Native American characters, I found the family dynamics interesting and comforting. They are/were a tightly banded group. I like that about them.

    I grew up in a household with grandparents and parents. It was an interesting childhood with a grandparent reprimanding all the time and a mother who was always trying to shield me from the scolding.

    As much as I love my kids and grandkids, I wouldn’t want to live with them. But then this is a different time where we all have separate lives to leave and we don’t depend on one another for survival.

  2. Karen, loved seeing the pics of your family! Even though I’m working with you on P & P, the pics help me to get to know you better.

    So are you Native American on your mother’s side–or your father’s?

  3. My immediate family consists of my husband and myself, my husband’s 8 year old son from his previous marriage who lives with us and our daughter, who’s 4.

    Both my parents are still living and still married and I have 1 younger sister. My husband’s parents are both living, though divorced and each have remarried a few times. My husband has one 1/2 brother through his dad and one 1/2 sister through his mom. He has two stepsisters through his mom’s current marriage and a stepsister and stepbrother through his dad’s current marriage. He also had a nephew through his 1/2 sister, though that child was given up for adoption.

    We each only have one grandmother who is still living. My husband has a plethora of aunts and uncles and cousins on both sides of his family(so many I can’t keep track). I have 2 uncles on my dad’s side, 3 uncles, an aunt and a 1/2 aunt through my mom’s side, along with aunts and uncles-by marriage and cousins.

    The family unit as we knew it years ago is no longer the norm. When we look at what is normal now, we see single parents, blended/step families, alternative families and such, that extend beyond what is considered traditional.

    Those are just a few of the things that alter our traditional families. A lot also has to do with how easy it is to spread out across the country. We don’t live close or interact with our kin the way we used to either. I really don’t know a lot of my distant relatives or keep in touch with them. I have vague knowledge of them, but not like I would if family units stuck together and kept their roots firmly planted in the same place.

    Life is more technological, more hectic, more self-centered, in a way, than it used to be. We don’t think in terms of “needing” to keep the family together. We do live “separate” lives that consists more of having to deal with our own daily events and issues. There isn’t as much dependency on the extended family. In some ways that is a shame, for the core of families seems to be breaking down.

    I try my best to keep in touch with those closest to me and not take for granted that my family is a part of what made me into who I am today.

  4. Great post today! I love knowing a little more about my Filly sister’s background. 🙂 You have a wonderful looking family. Very handsome family. I think the hardest thing in this century is maintaining the closeness because of distance mainly. Families seem to be really scattered so get-togethers are rare. At least that’s the case in my family. And also, I found as my mother and father died we had no “glue” to hold us together. We’ve all kinda gone our separate ways.

    My parents told us about living through the Depression and the thing they attributed to survival was that all the family stayed together. Where one went, they all went. They shared food, money, and other necessities. You could probably classify them as migrate workers. Their home was wherever they found work. So, yes they were a clan as you pointed out.

    I think lots of things contribute to a clan’s demise. One is death of the elders–the “glue” that holds the family together. But another important factor I believe is the drug culture in America. It’s destroyed the very fabric of many families. Then yet another is that it’s easier to move around and find work so people move and the closeness is lost.

    Anyway, thanks for sharing some of your family with us! It’s been so nice seeing the pictures.

  5. I’ve got a huge family. My husband is from a family of seven brothers, I’m from a family of eight brothers and sisters. All married, all with children. With that group…only brothers/sisters, spouses, children…ONE HUNDRED PEOPLE. I just had a daughter get married and I couldn’t invite ANYONE except family…well, almost not anyone.
    And my daughter’s husband is from a big family. Honestly, we had a crowd of 350 people and we only invited a handful of non-family members. Fortunately for me, I don’t have any friends. So that simplifies things. 🙂
    I do think a lot of society is being damaged by the way the world is.
    Not just the social welfare state, which makes father’s optional, but also modern life.
    When my mother-in-law talks about their early married life…in about 1940…you realize that both she and her husband had to work as hard as they could just to survive. He was earning a living, she was running the house. But running the house wasn’t…ooh, I need to dust…it was gardening, cooking…starting with a live chicken. Bake twelve loaves of bread a week. Canning, sewing the children’s clothes.
    She says she could cut out a the pieces for a pair of overalls without a pattern, in any size she needed by the time her sevens sons grew up.
    And she didn’t vaccuum, she took rugs out and beat them, and boiled water on a woodburning stove and shaved in lye soap she made herself to wash laundry.
    They didn’t have electricity until after WWII.
    Now a wife doesn’t need to do any of that. We’ve got Walmart and KFC and Hoover and Maytag.
    So yes, blame welfare, but also, blame electricity and fast food and a whole lotta other stuff that frankly, I don’t want to do without.
    But a husband and wife used to NEED each other, not just want each other, and that’s a huge difference.

  6. I agree that the fabric of family is unraveling in this country, because of all the reasons already stated. Distance and independence, plus lifestyle differences (add in the drug culture Linda mentioned) play a big role.

    I am the eldest of five children and I’m glad to say, we’ve all stayed fairly close. Only one brother lives in another state, and he comes to visit occasionally and calls regularly.

    My father was an only child, but my mother is from a family of sixteen children. Which means I’m related to half the people in the county…or maybe all. LOL! When I was young, visiting was everyone’s pastime. I actually knew all my first cousins, and since there were fifty-six of them at last count, I think that’s pretty amazing. But when it comes to my cousins’ children, forget it. I know only a few. The rest I wouldn’t recognize if I met them on the street. My grandparents and that whole generation were the glue. Since they’re gone, I hardly have contact with family, except for my own siblings. These days, only the death of a family member serves to draw everyone together for a brief time. During the wake, everyone plays catch-up and remarks on how well others are holding up, or how much they’ve aged. :o)

    Thanks for sharing the pictures, Karen. You have a very nice looking family. I wish I could post a picture of my maternal grandparents. The photo was taken when my grandmother was exactly the age I am now and, wow, it’s pretty amazing. The hard work is etched right into them. My grandmother was born in 1894, believe it or not. My mother was next to the youngest of those sixteen children.

  7. Hi Paty!

    Thank you so much for sharing a little about yourself with us today. Interesting that you grew up with grandparents there — so unusual in this day and age.

  8. Hi Pam!

    Thanks so much for your post today. I am Native American on my father’s side of the family — Choctaw — which was a tribe that was in the Louisana and Mississippi area — they were neighbors with the Cherokee, and like ethe Cherokee, were sent on the Trail of Tears. As near as I can tell, my ancestors escaped the trail and escaped through the Smoky Mountains — many Choctaw also came up the Mississippi, instead of being subjected to the Trail of Tears. At any rate, I grew up close to the Mississippi River Valley in Southern Illinois — my grandmother knew alot about that side of the family, but I’m afraid her knowledge died with her and I was too young at the time to learn much about it. What I know now is what I’ve been able to piece together from my own research. Thanks so much for asking. : )

  9. Hi Taryn!

    Thank you so much for your post and your for insights into what could be going wrong with the family unit at this time. I think you’re right — the traditional family, as we once knew it — even in terms of simply mother and father, does not seem to be the absolute “norm” that it was when I was growing up.

    It bothers me because the family unit is still the basis of society — and without the family…

    Interesting your insights. I think you’re right on the distance and technology making a difference, too.

    At any rate, thank you so much for your insights.

  10. Hi Linda!

    I think your post is very insightful. I hadn’t really thought about the aspect of drugs breaking up the family unit. If we go into another depression, as many economists are predicting, I’m hoping that the family will pull together to get each other through it, as they did in the 30’s. My parents also lived through the depression, and neither would talk about it — they both refused — and while I can understand why they would not necessarily want to talk about a thing that was one of the most difficult times for them, I would have liked to know more.

    All my mother ever said was that she hoped I would never have to confront what they had to confront. Interesting.

    Thanks again for sharing a part of you and your family with us today!

  11. Hi Mary!

    Thank you so much for sharing with us your experiences — and your mother’s experiences. I envy you your big family, actually. My family was small by comparison with my grandmother only having 2 sons and my mother’s side of the family only have my mother and her brother. So we are a bit of a small family.

    However, as I have grown up, I’ve come to realize that my grandmother had 4-5 sisters and a couple of brothers — all of whom I never knew — and so now and again, someone will write me from the small town where I grew up and will trace an ancestor with me.

    I think you’re right about electricity and such, but I think also that Linda is right that drugs have had a lot to do with the break up of the family unit — I also think you hit the nail on the head when you said that welfare has had a lot to do with it, too. Really good observations!

  12. Hi Devon!

    Wow, I can’t imagine having 54 cousins — and remembering them all — but I can imagine the fun it would be to be related to them all — and to have so many people to grow up with. That must have been fun.

    I do agree with everyone else that the fabric of families seems to be dwindling of late. Just what the cause of it is, I don’t know, but I do know history and I know that it was the break up of the family unit that was the final straw on the camel’s back so to speak for the Native Americans.

    The interesting thing is that most Native Americans are in the process of getting back to their roots and keeping hold of that glue that pulls them together. Like other parts of the country, however, drugs are pulling the families apart — and not simply street drugs. One friend of mine from the reservation lost a sister due to drug overdose on prescription drugs — at her death, she was being prescribed a total of — I believe it was over 100 different drugs. How this happened is anyone’s guess — but this was an incident that happened on the reservation.

    So yes, I think that Linda really nailed it when she pointed to drugs destroying the family unit.

  13. Hi Karen,
    My family has always been close. when I say family I mean mom, dad, sisters, brothers, aunts uncles cousins grandparents. We all lived in the same small town for many years Now my 3 children (all grown up now and live on the same block as my grandmother and I actully we are the block we live in all but 1 of the houses and are in a neat little row.) anyway my children and grandchildren still get confused as to who is an actual cousin and who is an aunt/uncle. they grew up calling my cousins aunts and uncles all of our kids did
    I have tried to instill in my children family is very important and will always be in their lives. They are there to help and support you when you need them, and sometimes when you dont. LOL that is the way I was raised and hope they will continue this with there children

  14. My family is very close, but I don’t think we could live together the way the Native Americans did in the past.

  15. Hi, Karen,
    Your family is beautiful. Thanks so much for sharing. My own family is small but I love them.
    My parents are gone, as is one of my children. I have a married daughter in California and a married son who lives close by with his wife and three children (who are the sun, moon and stars to me). My only sister and her husband are spending 18 months in Ghana on a mission for their church. Lots of very nice cousins I rarely see. And my two kitties almost qualify as family. 🙂

  16. Our family has so many different but yet similar parts. My grandparents, parents, siblings (I am the oldest of 7)aunts, uncles, cousins, second cousins, in-laws and out-laws are a really big part of who I am today but more closely than that is my best friend and her family. We met when we both had small children. Our husbands became friends and our children remain friends today. I call her my Sisoth (sister of the heart)and her children call me Mom2. Families are not always born but sometimes are made. I pray that the dozens of relatives that I have will continue to stay in touch althogh it seems we get together only for funerals and weddings any more.

  17. Hi Deanna!

    Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts on home life. What a wonderful family to grow up in. I have a friend like that, too. We call each other sisters and our families act as though we really are sisters. So family can also be what you make, as well, I think.

    Thanks again for your thoughts.

  18. Hi Estella!

    Great name, by the way. A character in my second book was names Estella — only I spelled it with one “l.” LAKOTA PRINCESS was the name of that book.

    Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts with us today. I truly think family is very important, too, although like you, am not sure I could live with everyone as Native Americans did in the psst. : )

  19. Hi Elizabeth!

    Thanks so much for sharing a bit of yourself with us today, as well. My parents are gone as well, but I still have my mother-in-law, whom I adore.

    Oh, I can’t believe I forgot to include my cats and dogs in my family. You are so right. They are definitely a part of one’s family. : )

  20. Hi Connie!

    Sounds like you, too, have a big and wonderful family. Lucky you. I do think that family must be preserved in our society — it’s hard enough on a kid to grow up with the blessing of family around him. Imagine if there were no family…

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us today.

  21. I grew up with a single mom and not much family. My husband has a very traditional family and I loved marrying into that.

    I’m sure TV contributes to decreasing the strength of the family unit. Before TV, people sat around the radio together and they talked or played cards together. It’s important to have that interaction. It’s too easy to sit a child in front of a Sesame Street video so you can get some work done. (Not that I’ve ever done that. LOL). But before TV, mom’s knew how to get their kids busy helping around the house with all those chores they had that Maytag wasn’t handling for them.

    You’ve really opened up a question that could be discussed for hours. It is so important.

  22. Wow, awsome family, Karen! Thank you so much for shareing them all with us. I come from rather a large family. In my natural family I have 6 sisters and 5 brothers, in my foster family I have 3 sisters and since my natural father remarried I also have 3 sisters and 3 brothers. That makes for me a total of 12 sisters and 8 brothers. We are all fairly close and do not look at the foster, natural, and half issues. We are all brothers and sisters. I was lucky to have two mothers and 3 fathers among countless grandparents some of whom I have met and many aunts and uncles etc. Our Creator, has blessed my husband of 38 years, and I, with four lovely children. We have one daughter and three sons. Our blessings have continued to 6 grand children. I feel that everyday the family becomes more and more distant as they each become so wrapped up into their worldly surroundings. What a shame, and so very sad. Many of the family values, so to speak, have become lost in the hussle of todays world. I give thanks everyday to Grandfather and Mother Earth for the blessings they have given to us and ask my spirit guide for direction on the path I walk. May our Creator bless and watch over all our families.
    Nance Miller

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