Sunday, October 24, 2010

Definition of Family

Everyone has an idea of what "family" means. There is the traditional, ultra conservative view of family as a mom, a dad, 2.5 children living in a house in suburbia. There is the totally radical view of family as a group of people who have chosen to define themselves as family.

During my nursing undergrad, we were given the definition of "Family is whatever the patient/client says it is". I liked it immediately. It puts the emphasis on self-identification and repeals the outdated ideas that family is purely biological. It also encompasses all the possible definitions of family, including friends, parents, foster parents, step parents, aunts, uncles, siblings, pets, partners, wives, husbands, children, roommates, whether they live near, far or somewhere in between, whether they are intimate or estranged, married or not, divorced, absolutely everything.

I had a patient turn down life saving treatment because she couldn't find anyone to look after her cat.

Some queer and trans people have been rejected by their biological families, which is very sad and heartbreaking. Crazy fundamentalist nutjobs have had such an influence on how a family is "supposed to look" and "supposed to behave", that the fear of hell causes people to turn their family members away. This is changing, thankfully, as the definition of family continues to widen and expand.

Family is of core importance to me. Coming out at 16, realizing that I still wanted to become a parent, being OK with never getting legally married, accepting the possibility of becoming a single parent if I needed to, have all deeply and permanently shaped the way I define my family. Pre-coming out, I had an exceptionally common expectation that I would grow up, meet a nice man, get married and have children. Coming out and realizing that I did not in fact WANT to marry a man was revolutionary.

It still took 2 years to convince my mom that I still wanted to have children, that I wanted her to be a grandmother, that realizing I was queer had nothing to do with my sexual orientation.

I have a deeply held belief that it takes a village to raise a child. I am actively involved in Girl Guides of Canada as part of that belief. The more experiences a child has with a rainbow of people, the more they are exposed to, creates for better, more well rounded human beings. That being said, I am a self-protective crab who tries to mother anyone who gets in my way. It will be a struggle to allow my kids to have experiences I don't necessarily agree with or life. I will need my ever supportive wife at my side poking me, reminding me that it IS OK to not necessarily like everything my children will do, but that it's important for them to experience a broad spectrum of things.

We are helping to shape human beings, not create little clones of ourselves. Parenting is not about relieving our missed experiences, as much as I would like my kids to do better in school than I did.

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