Family TreeKelly Wickham
I have something to say about family. The word “family” and how, be definition, it is badly in need of an updated definition.
I have married friends with children and single friends with children. Gay couple friends with children and families who create their own families by virtue of the friends they have in their lives. Never once have I considered there to be one, all encompassing definition that is comprehensive enough to fit every version of ‘family’ there is. An easy and popular definition of it found in the dictionary will tell us that family is “a basic social unit consisting of parents and their children, considered as a group, whether dwelling together or not” (taken from Dictionary.com) and also this: “a social unit consisting of one or more adults together with the children they care for”.
I’m intensely interested in family. My family tree grew last week to include two extra 18 year old kids who moved all their belongings into our basement. The Cuban’s eldest son and his girlfriend came to stay with us for an as yet undefined period of time to be determined later. As is our style, we didn’t flinch at the idea even though our home has traditionally been occupied by my children. Naturally, he wondered how this would change our dynamic and asked if this was okay with me. Not just his son, his flesh and blood, but another person who is legally an adult and unrelated to us. “Certainly. You know I’m not one to turn anyone away.”
Of course, this changes everything for us as Mason has also come back from Seattle to live with us again just last month so we went from having one child every other week to four children living with us. If you’re doing the math, that means there are 5 adults and one child under the age of 18 residing here. We’ve made the necessary adjustments and spent an exhausting yet exciting weekend getting them moved in, scouring furniture stores and friends’ garages for items that will make their living space more comfortable and welcoming. This tree of ours, this family tree, is made physical and tangible not just by these things but by the presence of new people in the lives of my children and me, too. The Cuban and I have lived together for almost two years now and we’ve gotten into the routines and habits that it naturally created.
Will there be stress and upheavals and getting used to new routines? Certainly. How will we ever get people showered and dressed in the morning if four of them are sharing the bathroom with a shower? We’ve done nothing for an entire week but adjust and shift and move and discuss (as is our way) what this brings for all of us. In fact, we contacted a friend of mine who is a parenting counselor who has agreed to mediate a family contract about expectations and responsibilities. It’s not just for the two new people, either. It’s for all of us who have to make changes so we will soon sit down with her and all contribute to a family contract. I’ve never done anything like this before and it seems awfully formal, but I think it’s a necessary component to creating a successful family for where we are currently. When I called her on the phone she asked important questions such as:
What are your non-negotiable things?
What about this living arrangement will make you crazy? Maybe not right now, but 6 months from now?
What are your fears about the family dynamic? Your relationship to The Cuban? Home repairs and other things that will go wrong?
Make no mistake: this is not at all a diatribe or forum in which to complain, but there is great concern about how one responds to the alterations and modifications one makes in situations like this.
On the contrary, in fact. We are nothing short of excited about this new venture. Each day we ask the same question of one another and most times we ask it knowing the answer, but expecting the comfort in it.
Can we do this?
Every day the person who is asked that question automatically approaches the question asker and embraces them in their arms for a tight, reassuring hug and whispers, “Of course we can do this. This is what families do.”
I want no one else in the world to partner with me since that’s the answer. And neither does he.
We are making up the definition as we go.
Yes. We know we can.