I just read this article, The Families We Choose, over at the Kinfolk website.
I love its opening sentence: ‘There’s no such thing as a perfect family. Regardless of what kind of family you were born into, you can keep adding characters to your clan, whether or not you’re related.’
The essay is a relatable read, challenging the ‘picket fence’ notion of a family – the one with husband, wife and 2.4 children. As the writer points out, not so many of us are actually in that kind of family. There are all kinds of reasons why not: singleness, sexuality, infertility, widowhood, moving away from the places we grew up, choice, disputes and abuses. And then there are the families who are living with loss, neglect and despair having been forced from their homes by conflict, oppression or poverty.
That’s why it’s so important, not only that we value and celebrate families of all shapes and sizes, but also that we nurture ‘the families we choose’, or the ‘network of people who care for each other’, as the article writer puts it. Obviously we’re lucky if we have partners or children or parents or siblings in the conventional sense, but it’s also a powerful thing to live in a community of non-biological children and parents and siblings. The people – whether related to us or not – who are there in the struggles and celebrations, who help us up and seek our help.
Andrew and I are part of a Church and find this kind of gracious, caring community there (though we also find it with others outside the church too!).
Sometimes, people don’t have the luxury of choosing a family network. Sometimes we all need to make a more conscious effort to make our ‘families’ inclusive and far-reaching. We need to look out for the wider human family far more than we do. It’s something I’m thinking about a lot lately, in so many contexts, not least the refugee crisis.
We’re moving steadily into the colder seasons now, and it’s in the months of darkness and cold that I think loneliness can feel all the more stark and the warmth of family all the more precious. I want to use this time to extend the reach of my family network, to invite in those who, like me, carry the weight of life’s hurts and happinesses and who, like me, need and crave community.
What does family look like for you at this time of year?