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Sweatpants & Relationships | The Many Shapes of Families

Family is a delicate subject. Even the word’s very definition is one that deserves care and nuance because it is more multivocal than singular, more subjective than objective. A sociological definition of family is a unit of people living in close proximity who have a sense of intimacy or closeness among them. Notice that this most basic definition doesn’t indicate what technical relationships among the people within a family unit are – that is, it’s not about biological family and relegating anything that isn’t blood family to a kind of second-class citizenship.

You might wonder if you have something that fits this definition at all. The people you consider family might not live on the same continent, or you might feel that there is little to no intimacy of which to speak. I’m writing to share with you a little bit about the general concept of family, and my families specifically because I believe that there’s no one “right” kind of family. I also believe that many of us—if not all of us, at some point in our lives—have multiple families of different kinds and levels of importance in our hearts.\

Many places I’ve been in my life thus far have provided opportunities to create families. As someone with divorced parents, a big extended family, a love of traveling and adventuring (and having lots of homes), and a deep care for people of all kinds, I have a lot of people near and dear to my heart. These represent just a few.

Family is often blended, messy, hard-to-define, multiplicitous, and somewhat unpredictable throughout life, but family is more important than I can say. This year, especially in as divided a political climate as it is, let’s celebrate the diversity of families that surround us and inhabit our hearts. Let’s make sure that each single parent has a village surrounding them. That people create, find, and maintain families that give them delight (or that we give them invitations to visit or even join ours if we see that they are without enough love). That we are grateful for what we already have, deciding intentionally not to look and think that the grass is obviously greener where someone else’s families are, while still pressing forward and working to make them the families of our dreams.

It’s not about the size, shape, or components of your famil(ies). In fact, sociological research tells us that it’s not the structure of the family, but the functioning and strength of its bonds, that determine its success. It’s not about hanging on for dear life to people who hurt you simply because “they’re family” and it’s the “right thing to do.” It’s about how the interactions are among your people and you, the kind of love held within the bonds, and the kind of joy that flutters in your heart when you’re together, whatever that looks like. That’s something that can’t be fully put into words.

 

Emmie Arnold

Emmie Arnold is a follower of Jesus, survivor and thriver, graduate student of divinity at Princeton Theological Seminary, blogger at Illness to Wellness, musician, photographer, traveler, goofball, and optimist.

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