Wednesday, December 14, 2011

What Makes a Family?

As I write my first novel, I've thought a great deal about family.  Growing up in a family of four, (mom, dad, younger brother and myself), I thought I knew what family meant.  I mean, we had it all didn't we?  The three bedroom house, two cars, two dogs, two cats and all the Christmas lights a kid could ever remember wanting.  Family is picking on your little brother so much he cries and the very next moment he is sticking up for you to the neighborhood bully.  Then an hour later, he and the same bully are caught reading your diary in your room so you beat them both up.  Family is a mom and a dad going to work during the day, home in the evenings, t-ball and softball games, backyard BBQ and camping with neighbors.  Or is it?

Now as my family is crumbling and I am experiencing my own battle with the infamous plague of families--divorce.  I find I am learning what family is and what it is not.  I'm realizing that family, as I have come to learn it, is a sham.  None of the previously mentioned experiences mean anything without love.  It seems that so often we equate family to numbers, 2.5 kids, $84,000 average net worth, 2 parents, 4 grandparents and so on.  Where is the love number?  

Based on the average income of divorce lawyers ($48,353-$77,968 annually,, May 2011), it may seem to some that the love number has a dollar sign attached to it.  I know there are days when I look at those red numbers jumping from my online banking statement and think the same thing; especially this time of year.  Despair starts to take over, but then, one of my boys asks me for help with something or shares a story with me about a friend at school who may be moving away.  Smack!  Back in reality, I can clearly see that how much spending money one has does not equate love.  And not only can I see it; it is obvious that my boys somehow instinctively know this better than most adults.  Sure they ask for things, but they know those things do not mean I love them.  

Love, I am learning, also is not measured in increments of 60 or by 30-31 boxes on a calendar.  Nope, you won't find any measure of the love that constitutes a family on the clock or calendar on your wall.  Go ahead and fill your days with times and places, events and people.  Let me know if this brings you love.  As my children are learning how to actually "spend time with" their parents, especially Dad, it is becoming painfully obvious that love is not measured by time.  Sure, they get excited about seeing Dad.  They talk incessantly when he comes over for his Wednesday night visit--for about a half hour.  After that, they are back to iPods, video games or just hanging in their rooms.  They aren't upset when he is late because of traffic or leaves early because they are ignoring him.  For the kids, time does not equate love.

Ask any adult what their two most valuable liquid assets are and most will tell you time and money.  Ask any child, and it's love (maybe candy, but this is not about candy, so we will just ignore Matthew's response).  They feel their best when they know they are loved.  The best part is, the love doesn't even have to come from their parents (thank goodness, right?).  Just look at all the adopted, step and orphaned children that manage to find one adult to love them no matter what.  These kids are able to become contributing adults, go on to love and build their own families.  Kids are better at "family" than adults are.  Kids thrive on love!  

Next time you see any size group of people, regardless of the combination of race, creed, gender or age, look in their eyes.  Is there love?  Is there an ebb and flow of sacrifice and contribution?  Is there a comfort level that accepts successes and mistakes?  That is a family.  You don't need to know how long they have known each other or what country the baby is adopted from.  No numbers, no statistics, no averages.  None of that matters.  Love, love makes them a family.         


  1. Such a nice post. I always think of family as those who are there for you no matter what. I wish you well on this difficult transition.

  2. Raised in a single-parent household and raising my own Mini-Me as single parent, this post truly touched my heart. Your words expressed so eloquently that family are not those whom you share blood with. They are those whom you share love with. Well done. :)

  3. @ and Widow Dyer, thank you so much for your kind words. I am grateful to be able to share this message with others. I hear this confusion in my students so often, however, they don't have the life experiences to put the feeling into words. They just know when something doesn't feel right in their family. I wish there was a way they could hang on to the hope of building their own definition of family as they grow. Too many kids lose this hope these days--or they reach out to begin building before they understand what they need in a family. My hope is to write material that will help them find a balance between the two worlds-hope and despair. I hope you will check back often.

  4. Love is our greatest asset.