What makes a family? I started grappling with that question months ago, and I've been going another round with this question since the World Meeting of Families has been in the news. Growing up, I knew a family was a mom and dad and their children. Of course, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and cousins make up an extended family. Since being an adult and struggling with infertility, I have more questions than answers about what makes a family. Are Husbandido and I and the cats a family? Sometimes I can't help but feel like the answer is yes but no. Yes, we are a family. As so many have said, a new family is started when a couple weds, not when they welcome a child. But in common parlance "family" is so often used to refer to those with children.
I won't argue that the ideal family is a married mother and father with their biological children. But we don't live in an ideal world, and divorce, out-of-wedlock childbearing, infertility, and death affect family composition. A single mom and her child(ren) are a family. Even after divorce, a couple that had children together is still a type of family, though often complicated by step-parents and half-siblings. So blood can make a family. But a couple (or single person) who adopts and their child(ren) are a family, too. Some adoption advocates say that "love makes a family." But that same phrase is used by advocates of same-sex marriage. Yet as Catholics, we believe that men and women are different and complementary, that children deserve to be raised by a mother and father. And how often do we hear of estrangements and rejections within family, whether created by blood or adoption, where there seems to be a lack of love between members of a family. Does rejection and lack of love unmake a family?
Is an unmarried, cohabiting couple a family? Is living together and love all it takes to be a family? Then what about close friends, choosing to share a house or apartment? Don't we sometimes say that we love our friends as we would a sibling? Then again, not all families live together. In my previous job, many of my overseas co-workers were on a rotation schedule; in their quest to give their families a better life, they spend half the year living and working in another country. So not all families live together, at least not all of the time.
So what is it that makes a family a family? It doesn't have to be blood, but it isn't just love, either. I don't have a good answer to that question. In fact, the more I think about it, the less of an answer I have.