I constantly read online rhetoric about ‘working families’. All too often, this means two adults with children. It is the mainstream, the norm, the personification of the popular-yet-mythical ‘nuclear family’.
Of course, not all forms of family fall under this definition. Traditional assumptions view families as adults-plus-children, which excludes childless people and treats them as abnormal or not a ‘real family’.
But in reality, there are many other types of family that are just as valid:
- Couple families. When two adults become a couple, they form their own family. They do not need to have children in order to meet the definition of ‘family’; they are a family of two. (Or, depending on your interpretation of ‘one flesh’ scriptures, they could be viewed as a family of one.)
- Furbaby families. Getting a furbaby–a dog, cat or other animal companion–turns a single person into an automatic family. Same goes for a childless couple who get themselves a furbaby. And furbabies extend to featherbabies and scalybabies.
- Roommate families. Living with others can foster strong plutonic connections. By force of co-habitation, you negotiate, compromise and sacrifice for the sake of the roommates. This is arguably a form of family.
- Extended families. Every person is born into a family. When we become adults, there is a social expectation that we leave the family home and become independent, perhaps one day finding our own family. But this does not mean our previous families cease to exist. All of us have family in the form of parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews and more.
- Surrogate families. Ever had a friend so close you treated them like family? You might call them ‘mum’, ‘dad’, ‘aunt’, ‘uncle’, ‘brother’ or ‘sister’.
- Friendship families. You can develop a circle of friends who look out for each other through thick and thin. You may find them in school or through a common interest or experience. These friends can feel just like family.
- Spiritual families. These are often treated as ‘stand-by’ families for singles in the church, as in, ‘Don’t feel bad about being single; at least you have your spiritual family.’ It infers the spiritual family is a consolation prize for those who cannot have a ‘real’ family. Newsflash: the bible tells us our earthly marriages will cease in heaven and our eternal union will be with God (Matt 22:30). Everything on earth is temporary, but our spiritual marriage and family is eternal. We are all adopted by God, welcomed into his forever family, embraced as his own. That is not a consolation prize. That is the whole first prize.
You can probably think of other family types. The point is clear. Family is not defined by the presence (or absence) of children. It is not even defined by our relationship status (thank goodness). It is defined by the people who are connected with us, one way or another.
You may identify with several forms of these families. I trust you resonate with at least one of them. And next time someone tells you about ‘real family’, you can tell them you already have one. Take your pick and set them straight.
What kinds of family do you have? Are you part of God’s worldwide, eternal family? What does it mean to you, as a single or childless person, to know you have a different-but-just-as-legitimate family? Share your story. Let’s have a countercultural conversation.