“Well, if we decide to start a family, then we’ll talk about it…”
I hear this sometimes from couples preparing to get married. I understand what they’re saying. Our culture doesn’t really have a good grasp on how to adequately use words to describe life situations.
Usually when they say that, I gently stop them and say, “I want to be very clear with you about what I think is going on here. The minute that you two say ‘I do,’ you’ve created a family.”
In fact, in just deciding to be together, despite the fact that the State doesn’t recognize it legally, I’d argue that by that decision alone, they’ve created a “family.”
You don’t have to have children to have a family.
You don’t have to have dogs or cats or rabbits to have a family (I am not a fan of “fur-baby”).
You two: you are a family.
When you decide where you go on vacation, you make a family decision.
When you decide how to spend your money, where to eat out, and how you’ll schedule your bedtime routine (yes…adults have bedtime routines), you’re talking about family decisions.
When we talk about “family planning,” we’re not talking about starting a family, we’re talking about adding to a family.
This notion, many times rooted in a long-forgotten-but-always-present past of needing kids to “work the farm” or “carry on the family name” needs to go the way of the dodo in these days.
It’s time to get rid of this stereotypical idea that family = “have kids.”
I saw Kevin Nealon at a comedy club in Denver a few years ago. He was hilarious. He spoke about being an “older father,” as his son is 6 and he’s, well, much much older than 20.
But he backtracked and talked about his divorce with his first wife. When he was going through it people would say, “Oh man, that’s terrible. You don’t have any kids, do you? No? Good. That’d make it worse…”
To which he quipped, “That’s kind of like asking someone who got their legs blown off, ‘Were you wearing nice shoes? Oh, good…that’d make it worse…'”
We somehow have cheapened “families” to mean “people with kids.”
You don’t need kids to be a family.
In fact, I’d say you can be a family of one, even. Our family has had more than one member join by decision or circumstance. “Uncles” and “aunts” and “grandparents” of all kinds. And not in some sort of honorific way, but in a real, tangible way.
And listen, there is certainly no religious reason, at least not any Christian reason, to have kids. Let’s just say that we’ve already fulfilled, as a species, the idea of “be fruitful and multiply.”
In fact, we may have over done it a bit.
Louder for the folks in the back: don’t let religion pressure you into having children.
There are legal reasons that the State doesn’t recognize just any-old-relationship as “family.” That’s not what I’m talking about here…although, it appears from the headlines that some of that notion, even, may soon be back under attack.
There are many good reasons to decide not to have children.
There are many heartbreaking reasons some people can’t have children.
There are many good reasons to decide not to partner with someone, legally or otherwise.
And there are many reasons people aren’t partner at all (or anymore)!
All of the above does not negate the reality that “family” doesn’t mean “with kids.”
Families come in all sorts of constructions. They always have (despite what historical convention tells you), and they always will. And we need a society that not only catches up to this reality, but rhetoric that acknowledges it, too.
You are a family, Beloved.