from the Summer 2015 Partners Newsletter
Family. It’s amazing how one single, small word can have so many different meanings. Television programs, books, magazines, and newspapers show us, on a daily basis, the ever-evolving combinations of people that make up an individual’s family. And, unbelievable as it may seem, as recently as the 1950’s, choosing to build a family through adoption was seen as taboo.
Today’s families are widely constructed; we welcome people in by blood, by marriage, or by choice. For some people, family means children; for others, it simply means themselves and their significant other. Families can include new partners and step-siblings, in-laws, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and more. We consider close friends part of our family, as well as pets. No matter what your family looks like, all families – even ones whose outward appearances may match closely – are unique.
Every day at the Coalition, we have the opportunity to speak with families, and no two families are exactly alike. They share similarities, of course, but each is different in sometimes small, sometimes big ways. You probably have similar experiences without even thinking about it. Take a moment and think about your friends and coworkers; are they all married with children? Chances are, you know a wide range of family types; married and single, those with no children and those whose bedrooms are all filled with little ones.
In this issue of Partners, you can read a story about Katie Reynolds-Oezer and her husband, Ryan Oezer. This single family could be defined in so many ways: as a foster family, an adoptive family, a birth family, a mentor family, a blended family. It doesn’t matter to Katie and Ryan how their children came to them; they love them and that love makes them a family.
You can also read about Camp To Belong and the work they do to keep brothers and sisters connected. The relationship between siblings is likely the longest-lasting family relationship that brothers and sisters will have. Those bonds are irreplaceable, just like the bonds between parents and children.
Sometimes it’s hard for children to understand that not all families look just like theirs, or that a family can be something different from what they see in movies, books, or their own circle of friends. Encourage your children to talk about the different kinds of families that they see and know and help teach them that all families are special.
In order to help your children understand the wider meaning of family, you might ask her who is important to her. Who does she wake up and want to see first thing in the morning? Who does she seek out to play with on the school’s playground? Who would she call first with exciting news? Those people may be related to her by blood, but they also might not be. Family can certainly be more than a shared last name and a common lineage.
All families are precious, unique, and to be cherished. By saying that someone is part of your family, you are telling the wider world that this person is important to you; that you care about and love this person wholeheartedly. There is no universal definition of family and there isn’t a blueprint for how a family is created. The one thing that is unchanging in families is unconditional love; after all, that is what makes the foundations for all families strong and secure. Whether your family is complete or you are continuing to build and grow together, the only people who can define you are the members of your family. Growing and keeping your family strong and healthy takes love, nurturing, patience, and understanding. We encourage you to take some time to explore what being a family means to you – and the ways in which your family is unique and special.