Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Are We a Family?

I was combing through the Families and Work Institute's 2002 study in order to see whether I can draw any new information from the raw report. Although that is still pending, I felt the need to pause to comment on what is yet another example of people using the term "Family" as synomomous with "People with Children". We have expanded the definition of family in so many ways. Most now include single parents with children, and many even include gay couples with children. Yet the use of the term to the exclusion of couples without children remains.

Has political correctness swept right by the childfree without taking notice of us?No matter how you may feel about such movements, they still remain a hallmark of society's awareness, if not it acceptance. PC terms have swept through the neo-liberal parent worship, dropping such terms as 'housewife' for "stay at home mom" "homemaker" and even "domestic engineer".

Does the term 'family' properly belong to a childed unit? I would argue that the term has achieved such broad usage for a group of close-knit people who share their lives that our exclusion is not necessary to give the term meaning. We have even adopted such terms as 'urban family' to describe close-knit friendships among people living away from their parents and hometown. The term's broader usage in things such as 'family emergency' 'family medical leave act' and 'family time' also argues for our inclusion. Taking care of one's spouse* should certainly qualify under these definitions, and indeed a co-parent is presumed to be included in them. That inclusion implies that the marriages of people with children somehow deserves greater respect. Our exclusion semantically places us beyond the reach of the vital recognition of the importance of our relationships.

And yet the term seems to have its own, separate meaning when it pertains to children. "Family friendly" and "family programming" speak of things appropriate for children. With the unquestioned acceptance of parents and grandparents into the term, this usage seems odd independent of the childfree issue. Additionally, an easy substitute of the term 'children' would pose no obvious problems.

So why don't we reclaim the word, and let them work the issue out themselves? The next time you're going on a date with your wife, tell people you're spending quality time with family. And the next time someone asks you when you're starting a family, tell them you did, long ago, at your wedding.

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* I apologise to those unmarried cohabitants who are seemingly excluded from this article. I think we need to take this one step at a time, and it is an easier argument to make for those relationships already recognised by the state and sometimes religions. With time, hopefully we can reclaim the term so that everyone who shares their life with another will be given the same respect.

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