For some, family life means the people they grew up with. For others, it’s people they’ve chosen to surround themselves with, unrelated by blood or name. But these broad definitions only cover the surface. What if a couple doesn’t have kids? What if friends and acquaintances make up a family?
Are Children a Requirement for a Family?
Merriam-Webster dictionary offers at least eight different definitions of the word family, which include the traditional “group of individuals living under one roof and usually under one head.” This definition would include grandparents, children, and extended family.
Many people feel that children are the one element that are required to define a family. One report noted that “39.6 percent in 2010 said that an unmarried man and woman living together were a family — but give that couple some kids and 83 percent say that’s a family.”
I don’t feel this way. I know too many childless couples who are a family unit to view it under such a narrow scope.
Family Then and Now
When I was a little girl, everything was about family. My grandparents and great aunts stressed that family was a top priority. All of our picnics and birthday parties were filled with family. We rarely invited friends along to a gathering.
My grandma came over “on the boat” from Europe and lived in a small community here with her brothers and sisters. My cousins and I would hear their warning that we needed to keep the family together. They were concerned about who would continue our traditions after they were gone.
Perhaps they could see that my cousins and I have done exactly what they feared. Most of us do our own thing, with friends or other members of extended family. We don’t all get together like we used to for those big gatherings.
People have moved away, there have been arguments, squabbles, and general moving on in different directions. I’m a traditionalist, so it makes me sad. When I bring this up to my cousin, he laughs at me and tells me it’s okay and it can’t always stay the same.
He’s right. Part of the reason family changes is that each generation defines what it means for themselves. I hear this from so many people, that they spend holidays with the people who mean the most to them, not necessarily those who are family. They choose to spend their time with folks who build them up rather than tear them down.
I saw Dr. Phil McGraw once on Oprah’s Lifeclass and he talked about toxic people. He included family members in this, saying “Just because someone shares some DNA with you they get to take your stuff? Call you names? Demean you? Sabotage your relationships and career?” His answer was: no way!
I’m reminded of the movie Under the Tuscan Sun, where the girl wants to have a wedding at her place in Italy, to be surrounded by family and love, and she gets everything she wants in the end, just not in the way she anticipated. Family life today is like that for so many midlifers.