What does ‘family’ mean to you?
What does ‘family’ mean to you? A spouse and two and a half kids? A polyamorous thruple? A harem of cats?
We don’t believe there is one set definition for what a family is. We believe that you should have the freedom to choose what your family dynamic looks like, with the ability for it to change throughout your life.
We recently caught up with three people, Ceri, Kirstie and Lo, about their definition of family.
What does your chosen family look like?
As a society, it’s almost ingrained in us what a stereotypical family should look like: a spouse, kids and the perfect home/car/lifestyle to tie it all together. But let’s be honest – that isn’t everyone’s reality. Far from it, actually. When we asked Ceri, who is 31 and lives in Oxfordshire, she told us: “I never grew up with that typical family dynamic. My mum and dad split when I was really young, and she remarried a few times meaning I have 5 half siblings. I love them, but it can get a little crazy! I’m gay but, at the moment, I choose to be single and live on my own with my fur babies. I have three adorable dogs, and they take up all of my attention!”.
Lo is 25 and from London. They identify as non-binary and use they/them pronouns. They don’t live with a spouse or partner either. “I live with my friends from uni – we’ve been inseparable ever since we graduated two years ago and I wouldn’t change a thing,” says Lo. “Some of them have partners and some are single, like me. People say that friends are the family you choose for yourself, and that’s exactly how I feel.”
Does my chosen family have to be related to me?
Family doesn’t have to mean people you’re tied to by blood or marriage. Sometimes the families we’re born into don’t serve us. Sometimes it’s OK to pull away from those groups – hence the concept of chosen families. Everyone deserves to feel safe, supported and loved, and it shouldn’t matter who by.
Kirstie has just turned 31. She lives in the Midlands and works as a nurse for the NHS. She told us about her family of origin, and her chosen family: “I have a questionable relationship with my mum and sisters, but a great relationship with my dad. I’d say my ‘chosen’ family is just my boyfriend and I. He’s my best friend, too. We do everything together and with him I feel safe and happy. We’ve been together for a few years now, and we have a cat called Henry. But for us, that’s it.
“I suppose we have bought a house together… but in terms of standard commitments, that’s as far as we’ll go. Neither of us wants to get married or have kids. It feels pretty great to be able to make that decision so easily. I know the freedom to do whatever we want hasn’t always come easily for women.”
How do you see your definition of ‘family’ in the future?
The dictionary definition of family is actually ‘a group of one or more parents and their children living together as a unit’* – so does that mean you automatically but subconsciously take on one of these roles? We asked Lo and they said: “For me, no! We all take on different household roles, cooking and cleaning on a bit of a rota. The shared responsibility makes everyone’s lives so much easier.”
It’s OK to want to rebel against the misogynist ideals set for us by society and the generations that came before us. The decision not to have kids is becoming a viable option for lots of people. “Kids were never on the cards for me,” says Kirstie. “I feel lucky to have found someone with a similar opinion on children – we both want to focus on our career and ourselves rather than give up our whole lives for someone else.”
Ceri isn’t sure about whether or not having children is in her future: “I am not sure about kids. I feel pretty indifferent although I’m sure at times in the past I’ve been more certain about wanting or not wanting them. I really like being single, and I’m not sure parenting is something I’d like to tackle alone. Like I said, three dogs are more than enough at the moment! I’m not writing off meeting someone again in the future, but they’d have to be on the same wavelength as me.”
What does having a chosen family mean for my blood relatives?
We asked Lo about their family of origin, too. They said: “I have a great relationship with my family – I come from parents who are still happily married nearly 30 years down the line, and I have a brother and a sister who both live at home. I love them and I love seeing them, but at the same time I love not having to live with them. I’m not sure our relationship would be as strong as it is if we all had to live under one roof – it would be a big collision of a lot of different personalities, thoughts and opinions.”
We want you to have people in your life that support you and are there for you if you need them – but that doesn’t mean you have to live with them, or even see them all that often. When we asked Ceri about her support system, she said: “My childhood felt a bit intense at times – like there were too many people in the house at once. As soon as I left home, I knew I didn’t want that. I’ve lived on my own ever since I left home, to be honest. I’m so much happier this way, controlling my own space and environment. I have incredible friends that I’m really close to and see every week, and I see my mum and siblings once or twice a month. But I know that if I ever needed anything, they’d be there for me in a heartbeat. I feel empowered by being so independent, but also safe because I’m so supported. I couldn’t ask for more.”
It’s important to do what’s best for you in every aspect of your life. It’s YOUR life, so your happiness and whatever brings you peace and support should come first. Choosing your family doesn’t have to be a big decision, and it definitely doesn’t have to be a permanent one – just whatever feels right for you, right now.