Tuesday, December 28, 2010

What makes a family?

I have been in various conversations about just this subject over the years and this holiday season has really made me think about my place in the structure. 

Persephone has two very specific family roles.  She is a daughter and wife.  One thing she is not, as I have discussed before, is a mother.  Her identity is defined by what she is as well as what she is not, which is really what a lot of us deal with when understanding our place in our world.  

Starting about a year ago and brought up again this year, a friend of mine is very offended by a jewelry commercial that plays during the holidays.  While I don’t get as worked up as the people in the linked forum discussion, I do agree that a baby doesn’t necessarily make a family and I think it devalues child-free couples as non-families in our societies. 

In another conversation at The Wild Hunt, there was talk about whether or not marriage as an institution is in crisis in America.  I have a particular stake in this debate as I have specifically opted out of “Marriage” in my relationship.  There are a lot of reasons for this including financial choices, spiritual choices and not wanting to support a program that is discriminatory by nature.  In that post there was a great point made by blogger and friend Cara Schulz: 

“I don't think marriage is obsolete any more than families are obsolete. How we define "marriage" and "family" may change, though, and has changed in the past. I think Americans are disillusioned by marriage because we, culturally, have placed marriage into a fairy tale.

Looking to the past, before we get into such a rush to throw it all away as meaningless, there is some wisdom to be learned about marriage.

We marry (in this country) primarily for love. We love the person and decide to make it official. That's OK as far as it goes, but it shouldn't be the only factor in that decision. What about shared core values? When looking for a mate are you choosing one based on if they have the capability to be a full and true partner to you? Do you respect one another and is that respect reflected in your actions? Do you love this person in a non-romantic way plus a romantic love -meaning - do you see them as FAMILY? Family that you can stick with even when they piss you off? Are they your ally in life? Do you have each other’s back? Can you count on them? Are they reliable?

In the past parents arranged marriage based on property, title, wealth, connections, and other economic reasons. But they also looked for mates for their children (and for themselves) based on the questions I listed above. Parents in the past didn't love their children any less than parents do now. And parents in other cultures where arranged marriage is still the norm don't love their children any less. But they did have a firmer grasp that a spouse isn't just a romantic interest - a spouse was a new member of the *family* and great care needed to be taken when accepting a new member.

I'm glad I didn't have an arranged marriage and I'm happy our culture encourages marriage for love. But we've gone too far. We now exclude almost every other consideration other than romantic love when deciding who to marry. We don't look at spouses as *family* anymore.”
What is interesting about both of these discussions – about the Kay Jewelers commercial and about the marriage crisis in America – is that they are both the same issue.  We don’t seem to look at our partners as “Family” anymore because apparently we aren’t family until we have babies.  That is why gay marriage seems to be such an issue in our country.  Fundamental opponents to gay marriage are worried that it will destroy family values and because gay couples can’t have children in the truest biological sense, then they are not “Families”.  

So, for Persephone – is she more of a daughter or more of a wife? Which is her family?  Of course Demeter, her over protective mother, is her family but do we view Hades as her Husband – her Partner?  Do they have each other’s back when it really counts?  In spite of some indiscretions that are common for the Gods, I believe that they do.  When it really mattered, Hades let Persephone go because it was for the good of their family. 

My partner and I have been together nearly 16 years.  While we love each other very much romantically we also love each other as true partners.  We work together to achieve common goals.  We support each other emotionally as well as practically, which includes financial and household matters.  We provide each other with the things that each of us needs to feel fulfilled spiritually.  I think for that reason alone, my partner is very much my family.   

So, what makes a family? 

1 comment:

  1. Wow. I truly love this post. Thank you so much. I think family is all about what you make it. It can be made of friends, of blood relatives, of children, and/or of mates.

    I have a blood relation that I don't really like because of the way she acts. Most of the time I don't feel like she is family, but the tie is still there somewhere, so I behave and try to accept her.

    On the other hand, I have friends who are completely a part of my family. They just are. They support me emotionally and physically and with household matters. My blood family even accepts them as part of the family.