My family grows every year, and more so than most because we have both relatives by blood, marriage, or adoption, and chosen family–this friends who have grown as close as siblings, aunts, or uncles.
Because many of the people we love either live far away or are only available to visit a few times a year, it can make reconnecting with them hard on a toddler or young child to cope with. Large gatherings are even worse.
Imagine being a small person again, and these tall people come toward you to hug you, pick you up, give you kisses, or claim familiarity, but you don’t have a clue who they are. You look at them with distrust, and cling to your mother or father.
It takes regular, repeated encounters for little children to remember who people are. When my father and step-mother make the trip from Arizona or Japan to visit twice a year, my son doesn’t remember them well enough to feel comfortable having them hug him. It takes time for him to feel safe around new or forgotten faces.
Once comfortable, he’s incredibly affectionate and loves to perform or engage in some activity.
But some of these visits are short, and he doesn’t get the time he needs to relax around everyone (Christmas Eve is especially stressful). So to help him recall names and faces, I made him a photo album.
I asked my family and closest friends to send me photos I could print off (or wallet photos through the mail). I searched for something that would hold multiple wallet-sized photos, and once I had everything printed and together, filled his mini album with photos in a somewhat cohesive order. I put family or household groups together, featured the kids first in most cases, and did my best to order things in terms of relationships.
After I showed it to him, he thanked me, and hugged it to him. In the first twenty-four hours, he looked through it seven times, three of those times with me naming each person he couldn’t name. I often prefaced each name with relationship, e.g., “This is your cousin Jack.”
Even my daughter found it helpful, since she forgets things easily. It prompted her to ask about clarification of relationships she wasn’t sure of, so I drew up a quick, rough family tree to show her. This is especially fun to do at her generation, because there’s a long string of half-siblings who are only connected to those on either side of them.*
If you wish to make a family photo album, whether for a small family or a big one, you just need:
- Wallet-sized photos, generally 2.5″ x 3.5″
- A mini photo book or credit card holder. I purchased this one in green (my son’s choice): it has a soft leather case, easy snap closure, and plenty of room for pictures. Find one that works best for your needs.
- Small labels (optional)**
Make sure the album you choose can be changed should new family members need to be added, and to update photos, especially of children who change so quickly.
*The long sequence of half-siblings: Daughter has two brothers: the Little Fox, and an older brother from her father who lives in Oregon. He has half-siblings of his own, not related to Daughter. My partner has an older daughter, my unofficial step-daughter, who lives in Montana. She’s sister to my son, and has a half-sister of her own she grew up with who has no direct relation to either of my biological children. Six children, all related to each other by one another’s half-siblings.
It looks something like this:
2boys <-> I <-> Daughter <-> Little Fox <-> N <-> A
Meanwhile, my half-sisters are younger than my daughter. Our family tree is interesting, to say the least.
**I intended to label each photo, but decided against it. Should we need to add someone to a household, it would mean moving everyone over and having to peel off labels on the covers. I don’t want to add them to the pictures, either, because it covers too much of most small photos.