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

 

Do the childless feel welcome at church?

My last post about religion and childlessness has brought in so many comments I think we should keep talking about it.

Let’s talk about another aspect of the religion question. I wonder how many childless people stay away from organized religion because most churches are so family-oriented. The pews seem to be filled with couples and their children. The older folks bring their grandchildren. And here you are, sans offspring. If you’re like me, widowed, divorced, single, or married to someone who doesn’t share your faith, you also come sans spouse. It’s lonely. You feel left out of all the “family” activities. Perhaps you stop going to church.

On the other hand, the people at church can become your family. They have for me. I sing for the children, sing with the choir at Mass, share lunches, dinners and picnics with the other parishioners, and spend holidays with my church friends and their kids. On my last birthday, it was the church ladies who surprised me with a big party and a pile of presents.

I suppose it’s a question of attitude. Organized religion, with its “go forth and multiply” philosophy, can make us feel worse about not having children, reminding us that we are different. But if we can get past the fact that we aren’t like the other parishioners (or members of the temple or mosque), if we can join in the activities and trust that God knows what he’s doing, religion can be a great comfort. When I really look around, I realize I’m not the only childless woman or widow there, and it’s good to not be alone.

What do you think about all this? Again, be kind in your comments. No religion-bashing, okay?