My brain has been skittering around to a multitude of topics for this month’s post. Do I address the coffee cup issue? Should I delve in to the recent clarifications made to the doctrine of the LDS church? Is ranting about the onslaught of Christmas prior to the celebration of Thanksgiving the direction I want to go? No to all of those; this month I decided to share with you just a few of my thoughts on the idea of family.
When I was around five years old my parents decided they wanted another child. They already had me and my two brothers, but they were crazy enough to want to add a fourth to the chaos. I don’t know if I truly understood the concept of adoption at that age, but I did understand that they were talking about getting a baby that wouldn’t come from my mommy’s tummy. Even at that tender age I was rather bossy, and so I immediately put in an order for a younger sister. It was only fair, I argued, that I have a sister, since my brothers had each other. I really don’t know if my parents actively sought to adopt a girl or if it just worked out that way, but before my seventh birthday, I had my little sister.
As I grew older I realized that adoption meant my sister had different biological parents and a different gene pool, but it wasn’t something I gave a lot of thought. She was my sister; we were family. It wasn’t our differences that mattered; it was what we shared that counted. We shared an immediate family – mom, dad, brothers — and an extended family – grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, great aunts and uncles. We shared holidays and family gatherings and family vacations. We shared a love of The Brady Bunch and Scooby Doo. We shared words – not always polite ones – and, fortunately, we didn’t share a room for very long.
Over the past decade or so it seems that the idea of family has been a hotly contested topic. Just what is a family? Many people staunchly advocate that a family is, as stated in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, “a group of individuals living under one roof and usually under one head.” Society has long expected that that “one head” be male and that the secondary family leader be female. A second entry reads that a family is “the basic unit in society traditionally consisting of two parents rearing their children; also: any of various social units differing from but regarded as equivalent to the traditional family.” Now, I’m not one to argue with Merriam-Webster, but I am one who embraces a different definition of family. I strongly believe that family is love – beyond that I have no words.
Every family is unique and special – and every family should be “regarded as equivalent to the traditional family.” I am frustrated and saddened when anyone attempts to impose their idea of family on society as a whole or the individuals therein. Why is the definition for the “acceptable” family unit so rigid? Why do we insist on judging those whose family construct differs from what is considered “traditional”? Why is there so much hatred and anger surrounding what is the most fundamental unit of our society?
I think that my parents were ahead of their time in the way they looked at family. Nothing mattered to them but the fact that the squalling infant my dad called Peanut needed a home and a family – and so they brought her into ours.
Fast-forward 44 years and there is still work to be done – and a desperate need for new definitions to be written. A few years ago a commercial ran for Cheerios that included a multi-racial family. The hoopla surrounding this commercial was phenomenal in its negativity. While the Cheerios ad is representative of tens of thousands of actual couples in America, it created a firestorm of hate commentary. Comments on YouTube referenced “troglodytes” and “racial genocide.” Commenters on the cereal’s Facebook page also said they found the commercial “disgusting” and that it made them “want to vomit.” The idea that even in the twenty-first century there exists the belief that a family must be homogeneous in color is mind-boggling.
This is where we must step in. This is where we say, “Hey, no one has the right to mandate what family looks like. That way of thinking is outdated and outrageous.” Families are formed by love and in love. They don’t come in a one-size-fits-all package.
Family is Jay and Nick. I’ve lost track of how long these friends of mine have been in their committed relationship, but last year, in their mid-40s, they became first-time fathers and are now busy raising their beautiful daughter.
Sally and Mike are family. These two are happily married and are licensed foster parents for the state of Arizona. Through fostering they have adopted two boys and are in the process of adopting a baby girl. Their family is always changing. At times they have just their three. At other times their family swells to seven kids. But regardless of the numbers – all those kids with Sally and Mike are truly family – and they provide an example to these children of what family feels like.
Family is my family. Me with my four-legged kids. My brother Thom and his husband Francis. My (handsome and successful and recently single) brother Ken.
Family is my friend Liza and her husband Scott. This Caucasian duo is busy raising three adopted daughters – who all happen to be Asian.
Family combinations are infinite. Whether family is only one, a duo, a single parent, has an only child, has 13 children – it doesn’t and shouldn’t matter. Whether family has young parents, grandparents raising grandchildren, two moms, two dads – it doesn’t and shouldn’t matter. What a family looks like doesn’t and shouldn’t matter.
What matters is what a family loves like – because family is love.