For some, the word FAMILY conjures warm memories of dinner tables, summer vacations, Norman Rockwell-esque holidays, and joyous reunions. For others? Not so much. That’s why marketing a church or restaurant or some other gathering as “just like family” can drive people away as easily as it draws people in.
Folks shudder at the idea of families for a lot of good reasons- abuse, dysfunction, loss, confusion, rejection and all the ways that we humans inflict pain on one another. Sometimes unwittingly, sometimes with the ferocity and accuracy that can only be attained by people who know right where those buttons are. Heck, even if we’re lucky enough to have families that are mostly functional and healthy, we carry into adulthood the wounds and habits we picked up along the way.
I generally respond pretty positively to family being used to conjure up the idea of warmth and togetherness. Maybe because I’m a bit of a sap. And I really did luck out with my own family of origin. But here’s the thing. I’m tired of the word FAMILY being used to conjure up an “ideal” so that it can be used as a weapon.
I’m tired of special interest groups and ministries with FAMILY in their name speaking as if their specific sub-culture of Christianity gets to define for everyone what a family looks like, how a family organizes itself, or what families want and need from the governments that serve cities, counties and states.
I’m tired of seeing my single friends who are both mom and dad to their kiddos looked upon with a mixture of pity and disdain. Or being held up as object lessons. Ditto for my friends who are single with no kids. Or married with no kids. Same with my friends who have made hard decisions about ending marriages and sharing custody of their children and learning to trust a new partner with their hearts and their kids. Or my friends who are families with no kids by choice. I love that some of the families I have to keep up with online (because they live too far away) have 2 moms, but hate that their getting married and adopting requires an act of congress (or the Supreme Court).
I am tired of families who have children who come out as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer having to worry about the safety of our children, physically and emotionally. I grow weary of wondering who will reject me or members my family (by blood and by choice) because we believe it’s wrong to demean or discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identification. Or who will doubt the sincerity of my faith for trusting that God makes and loves babies who are queer and keeps on loving them as they grow up to be queer parents, doctors, preachers, teachers, firefighters, athletes, public servants or well, you get the point.
I can’t say that the way we Viaus do family is especially pretty. Or that we should be held up as a model for anyone else. Though on some levels we look like we’re “supposed to”. Two parents (one of each gender), a kid and a dog, with bonus points for the live-in Yaya and the spare kid we are helping out for a while. The truth is, we’re three generations of messy psyches that crash into each other, sometime way too loudly. But we have each others’ backs.
If I’m going to pray for and fight for the survival American family, it won’t be for one particular sanctioned configuration. But I’ll be praying that all manner of families learn to fight fairly, love fiercely and laugh often. That while we share a house, we will honor each person’s unique spirit, even when those very qualities make us want to scream. And that we offer that same love and acceptance to ALL the families around us.