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.

Are you a family without kids?

Well, we survived Halloween, when the world is filled with little kids in costumes and a few adults who feel the need to dress up. I stopped in Corvallis that weekend and found myself in the midst of a chamber of commerce event that filled the streets with costumed children and harried parents. I saw spidermen, Lady Gagas, princesses, dogs, a ninja turtle, and more. Part of me was glad I didn’t have to deal with the whole thing, but part of me wished I had a little one to dress up and take around the neighborhood.

Our church had a Halloween party that night. The flyers promoted it as a “family” event. I knew from past experience that “family” is code for “kids.” All of the activities and refreshments would be designed for people under the age of 12. So I stayed home.

Have you noticed that everything advertised for families is actually geared to people with children? A childless couple apparently is not a complete family. It grates on me sometimes, especially now that I’m a party of one (husband with Alzheimer’s in a nursing home, if you haven’t been keeping up.)

How many people live in a standard two adult-two kid unit anymore? If they do have children, eventually those children will grow up. The word “family” should include all different configurations of people who love each other, even if none of them are children.

Now we just have to get through Thanksgiving and Christmas. Even if you don’t celebrate those holidays, the media has already begun to bombard us with images of happy families that always include children. Look around, folks. We don’t all have kids.

How are you dealing with the holidays this year? Are there certain occasions that are especially hard? Do you have advice for those who grieve this time of year?