What is a Family? Do You Have to Share DNA?

How was your Thanksgiving? Was it as it as bad as you expected? You know if you go in expecting to be miserable, you will be.

I had a good time. Church in the morning, then dinner at a friend’s house. Folks around the table included two male neighbors who have no family nearby, my friend’s husband and his mother, and their three teenage foster children. Plus Evergreen the cat and Buddy the dog. It was great. I think we all felt loved and welcome, even though we didn’t bring a traditional “family.” The food, to which everyone contributed, was fabulous, too.

The friends who hosted the gathering have their own children and grandchildren, but they live far away, and they have always collected the strays like me for the holidays. I already have an invitation for Christmas, although I am hoping to round up some strays of my own for a “no one alone” celebration.

That might be delayed because I got sick the day after Thanksgiving. I’m coughing and sniffling as I type this. Yes, it’s Covid, despite all the vaccinations. I have to isolate myself, so I might not have time to get anything organized before this Christmas, which is, yikes, less than a month away.

Meanwhile, what is a family? That was the subject of a recent article at “Stephanomics” by Bloomberg columnist Stephanie Flanders. The definition of family is changing, at least in the United States, she says. The most recent figures show 44 percent of Americans age 18-49 don’t have children now and probably never will have. The working age population has fallen for the third year in a row.

What’s going on? Money is a big factor. The Brookings Institution says it now costs more than $300,000 to raise a child in the U.S. and that doesn’t include college. The cost of a home these days is prohibitive. Also, people spend more years getting their education and building their careers, leaving fewer years to have children. Some see their childless peers enjoying their freedom and decide to follow suit. There are all kinds of reasons why Americans are having fewer children, and it raises concerns about who will do the jobs and keep Social Security going in the future.

The article notes that while the U.S. is leaning hard in the no-kids direction, other countries are trending the other way. In the Philippines, for example, they are having a baby boom.

But let’s go back to that question of what is a family. Family Story, a think tank in Washington D.C. which is studying the evolution of families, says the definition of family is moving toward chosen families. Biological families often live far apart, and travel is difficult. They may be split up and scattered by divorce. That’s certainly the case for me. We reach out to friends from work, church, or the community for everything from Thanksgiving dinner to emergency rides to the hospital (thank you, Teresa) to a jug of orange juice when you can’t get to the store (thank you, Martha). Often, we feel more at home with the people we see every day or every week than with our families whom we see only a couple times a year. And that’s okay. We can call or Zoom with our bio families and eat pumpkin pie with our chosen families and have the best of both worlds. Right?

Is anyone feeling guilty? Okay, I am a little. I feel like I should reach out more to my family, but they are far away in ways beyond just geography. Know what I mean?

I spent the last couple months watching every episode of “Friends” on HBO Max. Don’t judge. That show comforts me. Perhaps it is not realistic, but the six friends get together for every holiday and
major event. They all have families but choose to be with their friends instead. Do you have people like that? I don’t, but I’m working on it.

Consider the vision of family described on the Family Story website:

We envision a world in which any individuals bonded by love, support, or care for each other, who by choice or circumstance are interdependent, can be recognized as family; a world which elevates the strengths and ingenuity of all types of families rather than focusing on their perceived deficits; a world where we are served by inclusive policies and in which we are able to form and re-form families–free from judgment and discrimination.”

What is a family? When I was married to my first husband, I argued that my husband and I and our dog and cat were a family. My in-laws didn’t buy it. For them, a family had to have children, but for me, it was true. Are Annie and I a family? Not a traditional one, but yes, we are, even if she can’t drive to the store for OJ. Did the group gathered around my friend Sandy’s table on Thanksgiving constitute a family? It sure felt like it.

I feel as if I have several families, including the one I was born into, my church family, my music family, my writer family, my neighborhood family, and yes, my childless family. I am grateful for every one of them. When I get to feeling alone, I need someone to remind me to just pick up the phone.

Is it okay to spend the holidays with a chosen family rather than your biological one? If a large percentage of the population never marry or have children, thus never forming traditional families, what does the future look like?

What are your thoughts about all this? How was our Thanksgiving? What will you do different for Christmas? I welcome your comments.

Photo by cottonbro studios on Pexels.com

 

Without Children, Is It a Family?

What is a family? Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines it thus:

A: the basic unit in society, traditionally consisting of two parents rearing their children

B: any of various social units differing from but regarded as equivalent to the traditional family

They list various types of families: single-parent, gay parents, step-parents, etc. They also mention a variation: a group of individuals living under one roof. And then they go on to things like plant families, i.e., plants all sharing common characteristics.

They do not list two loving partners sharing a home and life. They do not list childless couples.

Have people asked you, “When are you going to start a family?” Have you heard people say, “Without kids, you are not a family,” or, God forbid, “They’re not like you. They’ve got a family.”

We all have (or had) a birth family, consisting of our Mom, Dad, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins. But can we form our own family without children? Is it not a family if we don’t have babies?

“Family” seems to be code for children. Family-friendly movies, restaurants, and TV shows are designed to amuse the little ones and keep them safe from grownup language, sex, and other dangers. I have learned to avoid these things because a) I don’t have children, so I’m not qualified, and b) I don’t like little-kid stuff.

As I write this, I keep hearing Sister Sledge’s song “We are Family” and seeing the last scene of that great not-child-friendly movie The Birdcage. (Robin Williams, Nathan Lane, Hank Azaria, Gene Hackman, Dianne Wiest, Calista Flockhart, Christine Baranski. Such a great movie) The only children there are the adult offspring of the main characters. As the movie ends, everyone is dancing with the female impersonators at the gay nightclub run by the Robin Williams. Their definition of family is just a bunch of people who love each other.

So what is a family? Let’s look again. The Urban Dictionary  lists some much more comfortable definitions. Says Lola5544 April 29, 2011, who wrote the featured definition, “family is a group of people, usually of the same blood (but do not have to be), who genuinely love, trust, care about, and look out for each other. Not to be mistaken with relatives sharing the same household who hate each other.”

If you scroll down, there are some really funny definitions of family by people who are clearly not enjoying their relatives.

I’m not the only one thinking about this subject this week. Check out this article from Nigeria. The writer insists that the second a couple get married, they are a family, kids or no kids. I like that.

So what is a family? Can it be me and my dog? Me and my church choir? You and your partner? Do you have to have children to be a real family? What have people said to you about this, and what do you think? I’m eager to read your comments.

 

 

Is it still a family without kids?

Yesterday as I looked out at the falling snow and had only the dog to tell about it, I got to thinking that I have done pretty well with the career side of my life and with my own personal growth, but have totally failed at the family side. Here I am in my late 50s with no kids, no grandkids, and no husband, just a dog. What’s left of my birth family is far away. Sure, I have lots of friends, but it’s not the same. When you grow up, get married and have kids, it’s not just about finding a man or giving birth; it’s about creating a family. Which apparently I did not do. Or maybe I was just unlucky to lose two husbands, one through divorce, and one through death.

This is so depressing I probably should delete it, but let’s talk about what makes a family. We all know that “family” is a code word for children. When the church holds a “family Halloween party,” I know it’s going to be all about kids. Sure, it’s politically correct to talk about all kinds of formations: two moms and a child, a dad and a child, a childless couple with three cats, etc. But that’s not what most people mean by “family.”

What really makes a family? I think it’s a group of people you can count on and feel completely at home with because you’re all woven from the same cloth. You usually share a history, culture, beliefs and biology, but maybe you can make a family without the biology part.

My dictionary’s first definition of family says it’s “a group of individuals living under one roof.” That’s pretty broad. Another definition talks about people or animals “deriving from common stock.” Hmm.

What do you think? What is a family? If you don’t have children, how do you create one? I’d love to hear your comments.