Family or Not?

Hello readers! I’m finally back. It took a pretty long time for me to settle in at my new job and find time again to write. I will write about my job, but today I want to talk about family.

The word “family” is one of those words that probably means a lot of different things to different people. I’m sure we Americans have a different idea of family than the average people in other countries, and vice versa. Practitioners of different religions probably also have definitions that include some families and exclude (many) others. But according to the definitions found on ye olde interwebs, there are certain criteria that must be met for some people to be found worthy of being labeled a family.

A family is:

  • The basic unit of a society
  • The primary institution for the socialization of children
  • Living in one household:
    • a parent/s and child/ren
    • more than one generation
    • a number of people greater than one
  • ┬áLiving together or apart:
    • individuals related by blood, marriage, or servitude
    • descendants of a common matriarch or patriarch

I’m not completely convinced that these criteria are an exhaustive or inclusive definition of family. I think I would add some criteria and maybe even take some out, but we’ll get there.

Here’s what got me thinking about “family”:

I work in the office at a luxury assisted living and memory care company. As I’ve been getting to know the ins and outs of dementia and other problems that come along with aging (even for the richest of the rich), I’ve met a number of residents and their families. One specific case is a lady who had early-onset dementia and her relationship with her extremely loving and loyal husband began to fall apart simply because her mind was. Her husband wrote a book about how they had been dealing with her dementia symptoms and their history as a couple. He devoted one portion of the book to the years right after their marriage where they spent time travelling the globe and how happy they were in those times. He praised the time they spent as a couple only. And then, he said, after all those years, they started their family. They had, I think, about three children over the course of the next few years.

It made me wonder what the heck they were before they started their family…

Another situation that I have faced many times since changing jobs is meeting new people and coworkers who ask the same old questions in order to try and get to know me.

  • Are you married?
  • How long have you been married?
  • How many kids do you have?
  • Why do you not have kids?
  • How can you not want kids?!
  • And then the kicker… Oh, you’ll change your mind. You just haven’t gotten there yet.

This has literally been the conversation I’ve been subjected to when I’ve met about 80% of the women at my new workplace. There were a couple who thought that as long as my husband and I feel the same way about it, that it’s fine. Like their approval of mine and husband’s lifestyle choices means something in the first place. There was one coworker who told me that she never wanted to be a mother, but she is. She conceded that she loves her child, but she might would not have had him if she could go back in time. Her revelation was strangely satisfying to me.

All of these instances meshed together over the last few months to make me wonder if my husband and I could be considered a real family, even though it is and will probably be just the two of us. We feel we are a family, but many definitions of family would disagree I suppose. As I thought more about the concept of family and which people can fit the mold, I will admit that I felt a little left out. I felt bitter that a term that means so much to me because I grew up in a very close traditional family, some may feel doesn’t apply to my relationship. How can the presence of a child be the determining factor as to if a couple is a family or not? Does a couple only reach “family status” when they procreate? Are friends only friends if they’ve exchanged friendship bracelets?

Then I thought about a friend of mine who is married but cannot have children. She and her husband desperately would like to “start a family” in the sense that my resident and her husband did, but she cannot. Does she and other couples who can’t have children feel left out, too? I imagine she does and it made me sad. My husband and I not having children is a choice for us, but a forced reality for her.

Then I considered LGBT couples who are fighting right now for the right to be family. It must hurt many of them deeply to not be recognized as a family unit like traditional couples.

I also must admit that, on a not-so-serious note, my husband and I have been watching season three of Orange is the New Black and on many occasions, the ladies who fall into the different groups within the prison all refer to their groups as families.

All of these thoughts make me feel the need to express what I think constitutes a family.

I believe that a family is two or more people who feel inexplicably bound together based on individual circumstances and events, who support each other financially and/or emotionally, and who would feel a profound sense of loss should something happen to one of the other individuals. They love each other and hold tight to each other through the mountains and valleys of life.

My husband and I are a family whether we have children or not. My mother-in-law and I are family, even if our communication hasn’t grown any better than it was when B and I first got married almost two years ago. My parents and my husband are family even if they don’t see eye to eye on religion. We are all trying to make it work and it will.

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