“Family” is such an emotive word. Too frequently I hear single parents berate themselves for not providing their child with a “proper family.” These are usually incredibly devoted parents who work day and night juggling the demands of raising children, dealing with all the complications that come with a relationship break up, making decisions alone and occasionally still trying to hold onto their own identify. To do this under the shadow of a belief that right from the start they have failed because it’s not a “proper family” begs the question what is a “proper” family?
Is it having 2 parents together? If so do they need to be married? Different genders? Birth parents? Happy together? Does proper family need to include grandparents, aunts, cousins? How big is the right size family?
If adverts are to be believed it’s often a happy, trendy mum and dad and probably 2 or 3 kids, a dog and a beige/cream settee. Who has children and a beige/cream settee that stays that colour? I certainly don’t know anyone who has managed that! The problem is that we don’t see the fact that sometimes the mum and dad in the “proper family” have bad days too – that they fight, sometime set the boundaries differently, maybe work crazy long hours to pay for the beige settee and all the cleaning it requires so don’t have so much time together and sometimes the dog piddles on the kitchen floor….
The point is that real life family is messy, complicated and a mish mash of experiences and emotions – some comfortable and uplifting and some challenging. Family comes in all shapes and sizes and sometimes when we hold false beliefs about what family life should be like we are only setting ourselves up for failure. For those who are fortunate enough to have 2 parents happy together then fantastic, but so often that’s not the way it goes. Sometimes official relatives are not up for the family thing – my uncle was never keen on the role, but then he never asked to be an uncle – however we have friends who are family in all but name. My 3 year old daughter is still trying to understand how our best friends’ kids aren’t her cousins…
If we are trying to provide our children with the perfectly structured family set up then a huge number of us are destined to fail. Even those of us fortunate to have supportive partners/spouses, parents, siblings can’t guarantee family life will be positive for our children. However if we regard family as a safe and loving community where you are accepted warts and all then look a little closer at what you offer mums and dads, especially single parents.
When no matter what personal tumult you have been through you have stood firm for your child, sought a positive relationship with others who have a relationship with your child and sought to ensure that your child is loved and supported no matter what then please give yourself a huge pat on the back. Whether it’s the family you dreamt of or a more muddled, complicated version then the structure is nowhere near as important as the security you offer.
Today I encourage you to pause and take stock of all the ways in which your child has a safe, supportive and accepting “family” community. Grow and develop that whatever shape and size it takes and think carefully before using the word “proper.”