This is the first in a 2-part series. The first is on blood family and the second entry is on families of choice.
“No person is your friend (or kin) who demands your silence, or denies your right to grow and be perceived as fully blossomed as you were intended.” – Alice Walker
What makes a family? This is a complex question that has many possible definitions. I would define family as people engaged in relationships which are designed to be mutually beneficial, nurturing and loving. As Walker says, we are intended to grow and to blossom in the company of friends and family. Our families of blood may or may not follow this directive. So if they don’t, how does the traditional concept of family fall short?
In this culture, family is based in blood. Being a blood relative, living in close proximity under a common domicile and sharing the last name are some common traits of blood families [and patriarchy]. In our culture, the traditional nuclear family with a mother, a father and children is the dominant model. All other families are seen as less than, even though most families in America don’t fall into the traditional model. Nonetheless, this is what we are all supposed to aspire too. If we are queer, we are supposed to get a same-gender partner and also have kids. Needless to say, I find this traditional model of family limiting at best, and also highly stigmatizing of others who don’t fit it.
As mentioned in a previous post, I am asexual and aromantic. I will most likely never have a partner and almost certainly will never have children. Therefore, I fly almost solo, except for my pooch. Essentially this means that I don’t have a family except for my parents and siblings. But as a middle-aged adult, society tells me that I am a failure because I am not partnered with children. Singlism is a very real form of bigotry and discrimination in our culture. So is the notion that “childless” people [esp. women] are somehow bereft and missing out on one of society’s great joys.
What happens to me if I outlive my parents? I will cease to have any family except my siblings. What will I do for holidays? How will I feel a sense of connection that family brings and that is so central to our culture? It’s hard to not feel like a “loser” if you don’t have your own family, as if you have failed in some way or that you are unlovable. Now, I know this is not the truth by any stretch, but the larger point is that this is how society makes you feel. Singlism combines with compulsory parenthood to make you into a kind of social pariah if you are “single” and “childless.”
Part of the problem is with the language itself. For instance, I call myself “partner-free” and “child-free.” This makes not having a partner or children into a form of freedom. While we often bemoan how much people without partners and children are missing out on in life, we seldom talk about how much they/we gain by not having these things. Imagine how much time is freed up to pursue passions, interests or hobbies that one could not otherwise pursue. Or, at the very least it may be much harder because having a partner and children is very time- and caring-intensive. I marvel at the dedication and sacrifice that my parents have made to raise three children. I neither have their patience or energy and really don’t want to spend my time engaged in childcare.
The other thing I would like to say about blood family is that I don’t think blood matters. It baffles me when people go to the end of the earth to pass on their own genetic material when adoption is a relatively easier option. “Passing on the genes” has never been my concern. I do not have the internal drive to pass on my bloodline. Others do, and they can explain why they do, but it is not something I want any part of. It is not my definition of family, and it can be very oppressive given the cultural imperative to fit into cookie cutter nuclear families by blood when other types of family may be both easier to come by and more harmonious.
Being child-free and partner-free is very liberating, but it is not easy. It sets you apart from society and always makes you feel like you are missing out on something big. What are alternatives to the blood family model that make others feel more included in notions of family?