MEGAN NICOL REED
On what makes a family
Perhaps I’m being petty. Sure, I get that it’s intended to be inclusive. That it’s supposed to be the linguistic equivalent of a bear hug. And perhaps a less captious mind than mine might be more forgiving, might just assign it to the dung pile, along with all those other marketing falsities we are constantly being subjected to, without taking offence. I guess it’s even possible someone all alone in the world could be grateful for the embracement, but I sorely doubt it. More likely, I reckon, it is to rub salt in the wound of their isolation.
I first came across it a few years ago, when a man, who had succeeded in selling me something I didn’t really want or, quite possibly, need, told me heartily that, going forward, we were part of the same family. No, we’re not, I thought. I’ve got enough relatives, thanks, without adding your slimy self to the line-up. And now, I strike it everywhere. Banks, insurers, suddenly, according to almost every company I give my business to, we’re all one big, happy family.
Coming from the complex, blended family that I do, I am the first to argue for the redefinition of family. To claim that these days a family is far more than just Mum, Dad and the kids. That there is a fluidity, a lovely looseness to family that previous generations did not allow for. Not so much a tree as a flower, in fact a chrysanthemum to be precise; with you and your immediate loved ones forming a central core and petals of various sizes representing whomever you hold dear radiating outwards around you. For me my family is made up of my son and my daughter, my husband, our dog, my mother, her lesbian partner (my other mother), my father, his partner, my brother, my stepbrother and sister and her partner, my grandmother, my husband’s mother, my father’s partner’s mother, my aunts and uncles (including step and in-law), my cousins (including step), their spouses, my cousins’ children, my wonderful friends, both old and new, my friends’ children, and, in some cases, their parents, my children’s friends, my parents’ friends.
One of the greatest joys of my adulthood has been the discovery that just as my friends have come to feel like family, people whose back I have and who, in turn, I trust have mine; people behind whose back I might sometimes talk and who, I imagine, most likely talk behind mine — but only ever out of a sense of love and concern, of wanting what’s best for each
There is a fluidity, a lovely looseness to family that previous generations did not allow for.
other, then so, too, have my family come to feel like friends. Despite a sunny, shared growing up, I can remember feeling distinctly different in my teens and early 20s to my wider family. Yet while our paths have definitely diverged, the surface asymmetries are nothing next to the commonalities, pale in the face of our combined histories, our mutual fondness.
Being part of a family is everything, and while, through choice or necessity, some families work together for financial gain or survival, being part of a family is never a business transaction. And for a commercial enterprise to suggest otherwise, insinuating, or even boldly claiming, that its customers are family is downright creepy.
Last week I wrote about the friendships that can form between adult and child independent of you, the parent. John shared this: “Sometimes it is easy to see why you get along with someone because they have similar backgrounds, views, etc. But how you explain the instant fascination with another person when there is no apparent reason; it continues to baffle and fascinate me. Although now out of the battle zone,
I can remember like it was yesterday the colour of an eye, shape of a cheek, phrase, or timbre of a laugh that suddenly tipped my world off its axis. But you live too closely to your children for too long, and as an authoritarian figure, for them to see you as a fascinating figure in their lives. That comes later when, as they say, the children suddenly realise that you have grown up a lot.”
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