Thursday, October 7, 2010

Are We a Family?

Alyssa Favreau called me last week for an interview for her university paper, The McGill Daily. She wanted to explore how our definitions of family have expanded over time. In her article titled The Ties That Bind she cited a study by Indiana University sociologist Brian Powell in which Americans were asked what they considered to be a family. Favreau noted:
In Powell’s research, the presence of children had a legitimizing effect on how a couple was viewed. In the 2010 survey, 100 per cent of respondents considered a married heterosexual couple with children to be a family, while 83 per cent considered an unmarried heterosexual with kids to be a family, and 64 per cent considered a same-sex couple with kids to be a family. Remove the children, and the percentages dropped down to 92, 40 and 33 per cent respectively.

Laura Scott, head of the Childless by Choice Project advocacy group and author of Two is Enough: A Couple’s Guide to Living Childless by Choice, said that these findings are representative of how couples living without children are often excluded from the general definition of family. “The perception is that they’re just a couple, not really a family,” she explained. “There’s an attitude that if you’re a [child-free] couple, it must be temporary; eventually you’ll have children.”

This perspective, Scott said, often leads to a social marginalization of couples who are childless either by circumstance or by choice. “As a childless person you become socially isolated,” she said. “Childlessness is approaching 20 percent in women, and that’s huge. We can no longer assume parenthood for all...we need to assimilate those [child-free] couples into our society and recognize that it’s a viable life path.”

Though I do not describe the Childless by Choice Project as an advocacy group, nor do I advocate remaining childfree, I do advocate expanding our definition of family to include functioning, committed, and supportive family units of two or more regardless of gender, sexual orientation, marital status, or the number of offspring produced or adopted.

Are you childless by choice or circumstance? If so, what does your family unit look like?


A Stitch in Design said...

By choice and our unit is one boy, one girl, a few kitties and a puppy. Do I think you need animals to "substitute" as children? No, but we happen to be animal lovers :)

Erin-Joi said...

Our family consists of a husband and wife and five rescued cats. Although we consider our cats to be our children, they are not a substitute for having kids. We had two cats when we got married. Our latest family member joined us after we were trapping ferals for TNR. One of the trapper "ferals" wasn't feral. He was an abandoned outdoor pet.Since he was already 10 (passed middle age for cats), there is no way he entered the family as a son.

Anonymous said...

Our family unit is "US" (husband and self and PETS). Our 'extended family' are our very close friends, and our 'fake nieces & nephews' are our best friend's kids.

Child production has been shoved down my husband's throat by his mother & sister, so now my husband even has a hard time thinking of US as a family since we are child-free (by choice). This breaks my heart because I am up against this 'programing' in my very own home. His own mother has placed such an emphasis on her grandkids that she blatantly states that her daughter is more worthy of life & her love because she has children and we do not. Sickening. We do not need to bring children into our life to validate our family unit, nor because we are lacking love from one another or from other sources, nor do we need to bring kids into our lives to satisfy the interests of OUR parents (as we feel many around us do - including my sister-in-law)

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Angie said...

Our family is my spouse and I as well as our animals. We are definately isolated in this respect. We feel very confident about our decision but there are times when I feel it would be easier to have children simply in order to fit in and move with the flow. I believe family can have so many forms. I've known individuals that don't have blood relatives with whom they are close and have become families with friends etc. I would also consider an individual that shares a life with pets, and no other person, a family. Like the saying "Home is where the Heart is"....."Family is where the heart is" as well!

AngieB said...

Family can take on so many forms. I believe individuals that share their lives with a pet and no other human can be family. Like the saying "Home Is Where the Heart Is" Family is Where the Heart is as well. My family is me, my spouse and our pets. I'm acutely aware that this is not a valued choice...especially here in the midwest.

Egogramme said...

I cannot define my partner and myself as a family.
However, I can totally accept and respect the fact that a lot of couples feel and see themselves as a family.

I guess that the word "family" sounds too traditional for me ("head of family"). And rigid or
permanent in some ways ("You can choose your friends, not your family. ")

My partner can see ourselves as a family but I am totally against this word to define my couple and my life. Maybe because I am a kind of feminist, egalitarian and indepedent.

Just to give you some facts: I know I didn’t want kids since ever. I am an European 30 years old woman and heterosexual. My partner and I are together for 7 years, live together for 4 years and we signed a civil partnership 2 years ago. I am faithful and committed to my partner (and my couple). I don't want to be married. We have no pet, just the two of us.

My parents are not divorced and my family is not awful.
Except the reasons mentioned in the second paragraph, I don't know why I am so allergic to the word "family". Instead of family, I strongly prefer "home" to define my situation.

Maybe taking care together of pet(s) (or kids of others) creates this bond, this belonging, this feeling of being a family ? What do you think ? Is there a couple without child and pet who can tell what they feel about themselves ?

Is there anybody sharing my feelings about the word "family" ?

(sorry if I misuse some English expressions)

Laura Scott said...

I do understand Egogramme!
My best friend has a child with her partner but even she hesitates to assign labels to what they have. They are not married in the legal sense but the have made commitments to each other that include fidelity.

I have used the word "partnership" to describe my marriage and when I describe our family I am describing a tribe that includes blood relatives and friends who have no relationship to us at all.

Beth said...

Our family is my live-in partner, (heterosexual) and our dog. We feel very much like a family even tho his Mother has rejected even MEETING me because I am older than him. She assumes he wants kids even tho he does not. Since I'm 42, I guess she's upset there will be no kids in the situation. I have been utterly rejected and she says she will never, ever meet me. Very sad, but he and I feel very much like a family. We feel we are being responsible by NOT having kids.

Morgan said...

I feel badly reading the stories of people rejected by their parents because of their decision to remain child free. I fail to understand how having a baby can make you more or less someone's daughter or son. It's really, just incredible to me. How sad.

But anyway, our family is myself, my husband a cat and a dog. My best friends are our extended family and our genetic family are those people we barely know, that we occasionally have to suffer visits from or make visits to.

marshan said...

My husband and I give eachother all the trappings of a traditional "family". We have our own holiday traditions and live a very content, peaceful and full life with our extended family and dear friends.
An interesting irony is, as we have entered middle age and many of our same age friends and family have gone through divorces and broken families, they have migrated to our home for solace and fellowship. We have embraced, oomforted (and fed!) so many loved ones this way. How's that for contributing something to the world?