‘The combination of a healthy body and a stable relationship with a self reliant partner who takes zero shit from me or anyone else has made the continuity of my working life possible’ – Stephen King
Years ago, I had to go to hospital for some tests, and during my pre-assessment was asked by the nurse ‘do you have any family’ I naively and possibly fog-minded with a little hospital anxiety said ‘I have a mum, a dad and an older brother’ Dave rolled his eyes and the nurse chuckled. Oh, right, ‘having a family’ is code word for kids. Gotcha.
I’ll fully admit that when I was 19 I was all ‘get married by 25, have kids by 30, world domination by 35’ but, what does a bubble headed 19 year old really know about life anyway? I was never going to be little Suzy Homemaker, I’m far too lazy, neither am I some career driven ladder climber. At the moment, I’m just someone who is enjoying life with my husband, and right now, our little family of two feels full enough as it is. But I feel I’m verging on ‘childless couples’ territory and that’s not a subject I’m going anywhere near so I’ll move on.
The reason I bring this up now is because a few weeks ago at work I was asked the exact same thing about having a family. My response this time was ‘Well, I have a husband…’. No further questions were asked and I think the look on my face was read well enough to know that they should probably move the conversation on. It stuck with me though, I don’t want to be arsey with anyone, of course I know what they meant was ‘do you have children’ but why not just ask that? Or, even better than that, mind your own business? Either way, it made me want to do some research:
According to the Canadian and American Census boffins, married couples aren’t considered a family, merely a ‘household’, whereas the UK Census nerds say ‘A family is a married, civil partnered or cohabiting couple with or without children, or a lone parent, with at least one child, who live at the same address’ but has only said this since the 2011 census. So at least that’s a step in the right direction. But why is it that I feel like I’m constantly having to defend myself or correct people who appear to have the opinion that Dave isn’t my family or worse, that we’re not a family because we don’t have children?
I notice this is particularly prolific in the blogging community. If you’re a ‘family blogger’ it means you have children. You do things as a ‘family’ so you get free tickets to theme parks, camping holidays and loads of toys and goodies sent to review. Now, i probably don’t have much use for a load of toys in my house, but I like a theme park as much as the next person, and incidentally it’s somewhere I would like to go with my family. My family just doesn’t happen to include children.
The thing is, what constitutes a family is changing and it’s no longer the 2.4 children it was in the 80s. I was a young adult in the late 90s/early 00s where the two top TV shows were Friends and Sex and the City. In the latter no parents or siblings were ever mentioned let alone appeared and in Friends the parents were very much supporting characters. I was very fortunate to be raised in a fun, loving household by two wonderfully supportive parents but I’m not naive to think that every one is the same. I have friends who have extremely strained relationships with their parents for various reasons so they seek comfort, nurturing and love from their partners and their friends. Afterall, they’re the people you choose to have in your life, rather than the people you happen to be linked to by blood.
Dave and I first met when I was about 10 and he was one of my brothers best friends. Fast forward a couple of years and we met again when I’m 21 and the rest is history. We’ve been together over 15 years meaning we’ve stayed together through our tumultuous 20s, where people do the majority of their growing up and changing I mean, I know I’m not the same person I was when I was 21 and i’m pretty sure you’re probably not either). We’ve been together just under half my life, and we tell each other everything, so he’s probably the one person in the world who knows me back to front, inside out.
We happen not to have children but to my mind, that doesn’t make us any less of a family. He’s my nationally registered next of kin and beneficiary of my pension and all my assets – (which isn’t much – physically or monetarily) should anything unfortunate happen to me. What is seen as conventional practices of marriage is changing which in turn is changing the perception of what it takes to be a family. I know i’m probably just arguing over semantics here, I know that Dave and I are a family so what does it matter if people ask me if i ‘have a family’ rather than ‘do you have children’? They’re just words afterall and I get that. But, in the same way I feel that people really need to stop using the phrase ‘childless’ (I find ‘child-free’ much more accurate) similarly I think language needs to be changed around inferring that being a family automatically means kids.
So what do you lot reckon? Are you married and only truly considered yourself a family when you had children? Are you single and consider your friends to be your family? Do you really give a banana hammock what the government defines you as? Holla at me in the comments and let’s chat!
Oh, and I’m still planning on world domination, just FYI, i’m just a year behind schedule at the moment.
Really interesting post Helen. I am not married and I don’t have children but I’ve been with my partner for 15 years and he is 100% my family (quite pleased to discover the government agrees). I also regard his family as my family and gained grandmas, in-laws, neices, nephews and cousins when we got together. I also have friends from childhood that are like sisters to me. The definition of family is definitely changing and anyone rude enough to make assumptions or ask intrusive questions without an open mind to the answer should bugger off!
When Declan Donnelly and his wife has their baby last year Philip Schofield commented on his Instagram post and said ‘NOW you’re a family!’. When people pulled him up on it he said they were overreacting and threw a few eye rolls in for good measure I’m still annoyed at him about it now.
I missed that, what a moronic thing to say, and then to stick with it and not just say that’s not what he meant or it was taken out on context is really disappointing, I thought more of Phil!
What an awful thing for the nurse to imply!! Husband is definitely family! I have recently (ish) had a kid and I am
not a maternal person, if anything I get annoyed when people ask “do you have children?” yep. “how’s the little man?” he’s a kid. He’s happy as a pig in shit. I on the other hand am dealing with life stuff!!
I miss my life prior to children. Perhaps the nurse could see your radiant happy glow and just made a passive aggressive comment to try and bring you down as she seethed with jealousy because her own rodents kept her up all night with their diarrhea and bad dreams?
Such an interesting read Helen! We’re really thinking about our future at the moment and I think we’re leaning towards the idea of not having children and I’m sure there’ll be plenty said about that by others as time goes on. As far as I’m concerned Simon and I are 100% a family, families come in all shapes and sizes! x
This is such a good read! You’ve put everything I was thinking into words. I think it’s very odd that people think they can define what family means to someone else. My family consists of a husband and a cat, and I’m so happy with that! I’d never judge someone for having children so it’s really odd that people judge those of us who don’t have them (especially when they don’t know if that’s a choice or not!). It’s interesting that the census has changed recently. It’s definitely a step forward but I just find the concept of “starting a family” so weird. Just say “having children” and be done with it haha.