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Love, Divorce, and ‘Family’ Matters

200209831-001In the 21st century we like our families mixed. With the rise in divorce, it’s almost impossible for anyone to say they don’t have at least one step relation or acquaintance. This used to be a shameful topic because divorce used to be seen as a shameful act. But now marriage is seen as a romantic, heartfelt decision rather than a rational necessity, and there is (relatively) no shame in ending an unhappy marriage.

Yet after ending an unhappy marriage, you may be faced with the task of deciding who your family is. Does this signal the breakdown of the family as we know it, or the beginning of an evolved family structure?

21st Century Family

In 2010, the Pew Research Center uncovered that 42% of 2,691 surveyed adults had at least one step-relative in their family; of those 2,691, 30% had a step or half sibling, and 18% had a living stepparent. Welcome to the make up of almost every 21st century family, thanks to gender equality, changing morals, modernized divorce laws, and whatever else we can blame the high divorce rate on.

While 21st century families don’t quite look like The Jetsons, 21st century families do slightly resemble the Jetsons’ robot maid, Rosie. Like Rosie, 21st century families are made of different pieces fused together. In 21st century families, there are step-siblings, ex-stepparents, various “uncles” and “aunts” who aren’t related by blood or marriage, and ex-relations’ relations who need sentence-long introductions.

Yet somehow all these people can be easily defined as “family.” Family is usually defined as “a group of persons of common ancestry,” but there are many other definitions.

Are You My Family? includes groups who share the same home, share the same convictons and values, as well as various related organisms as part of the definition of “family.” This is because relationships and the semantics of those relationships are complicated. Once two people have become acquainted they cannot un-know each other. The result is one big, happy Frankenfamily.

Remember the old saying, “You can’t choose your family”? Well, consider that saying to be outdated. With in-laws and other “family” coming and going in and out of marriage, there is a choice. If you never really bonded, you can let an ex-in-law fall by the wayside; on the flip side, if you have a strong bond with a now-ex-in-law, you don’t necessarily have to let them go. Of course every family is different, and the decision to keep a certain “relative” around is up to the individual.

Is the Family Stronger?

The term “Frankenfamily” might not be very inspiring or reassuring, but it’s very possible the Frankenfamily is a much stronger unit than the family of old. The traditional perception of family chains a person to relationships with people they may not care for in the least. But the Frankenfamily is created upon much more stable ground since the person chooses and admits people into their family.

The Frankenfamily does not completely disband or destroy the traditional family, it just allows the family tree to be pruned. Who wants rotting branches on their family tree, anyway? Not I, that’s for sure.

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