If you see a whole thing - it seems that it's always beautiful. Planets, lives... But up close a world's all dirt and rocks. And day to day, life's a hard job, you get tired, you lose the pattern. - Ursula K. LeGuin

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Family Arrangements

For some reason (perhaps it was all the wedding and marriage talk going on around here) I recently realized that I am the only person in my family to have (technically) gotten divorced.  My mother did leave my father when I was seven but never bothered to make it legal.  She had no intention of marrying again (and although she has had several long term relationships, she hasn't remarried to this date) and then he died nine years later.  This left her a widow, something she didn't realize until she started collecting social security many years later.  As luck would have it, by not filing for divorce she now has bigger monthly checks.

Neither of my grandparents divorced or separated (although one pair probably should have) and none of my sisters have gotten a divorce.  So currently, I stand alone (and hope I remain that way, of course).

Today I ran across these statistics on step-families.  It made me realize, all over again, that I don't have any step-family members.  I did have a step-son during my first marriage but since that marriage is dissolved the relationship no longer exists (legally or emotionally; he is also my age so it never felt like a stepmother-son relationship, more like an incredibly awkward and inappropriate sibling relationship).  Angel has two step-parents, a biological half-brother, an adopted half-brother, and a step-sister.  b, of course, has a step-son but no other step-relatives as his parents never divorced either.  However his brother has twice, so that must make up for something.  Pumpkin takes the cake.  She has an adopted father, step-mother, one biological half-sister, and six other siblings that have no biological ties to her but are some form of half-step-adopted sibling.  (No one outside of the family can actually keep track of them all).  Now she also has me and b as emotionally-adopted parents.*

Of course, as the data show, these arrangements are all fairly frequent these days and will probably continue to grow.  What I find strange is that my family-of-origin appears so conservative when it comes to family configurations.  It is not like I have some la-de-da happy childhood to thank for it. In fact one could say that we took the 'fun' right out of dysfunctional when it came to family togetherness. So what is missing from this equation?  Unmarried partnerships.  We've had several of those in my family.  I wonder where they get figured into the data.

A major problem with doing research with families (as I do) is figuring out how to define a family. This becomes even harder when you consider the impact of time, as families change frequently. We decide within our families who we consider to be a family member and even then we may not all agree.  I found it interesting that Pew made the connection with obligations.  I tend to see it the other way around.  Those I consider myself obligated to, those I have chosen to be responsible for and to allow to be responsible for me, are my family members.  Blood and legal documents seem so much less significant.

*Pumpkin called as I was finishing up this post to invite us to an engagement party with both her and BB's parents.  We started talking about the post and she asked where in-laws fit in (no surprise since in-laws are very much on her mind these days).  It was a good question but probably deserving of its own post. 

1 comment:

Annie said...

Hi Brigindo,
The statistics were interesting to see. My husband and I are rare in my family. With the exception of my parents, we have outlasted everybody else. My brother and my sister, were each married for just under twenty years. Another brother may still be technically married, but he and his wife probably actually lived together for less than two years out of the past forty, though he has been helpful to her, especially lately. After living together for two years, my husband and I have been married since I was 23. My childhood family was also dysfunctional. My sister's family took in a step-child (half-brother to her two children) for a couple of years, and stayed involved throughout his growing up years. I'd be interested in learning more about your research, and how you have decided to define family, and how you've incorporated unmarried couples in committed relationships. I think, too, it is a matter of feeling a sense of responsibility for each other, more than genetics or legal ties, especially as there are more and more blended families.