If only the rest of the world were as accepting as the under-fivesby Hephzibah Anderson / March 2, 2020 / Leave a comment
If you were to ask my daughter who is in our immediate family, she’d tell you myself, her grandmother, her pram and her auntie—in that order. Sometimes our car gets a billing, too. The humans in that list were all present at her birth while the pram shares our home, giving it a status adjacent to that of family pet. What unites us, humans and vehicles alike, is that we appear to exist primarily to do her bidding.
It’s an interpretation of family that turns out to hew closely to the word’s origins, which lie in the Latin familia, meaning a household’s servants. But if she’s as mercenary as the rest of her tribe of small ones, my daughter is every bit as stoutly forward-thinking, too. When I was growing up in the 1980s, the most exotically-shaped family trees were those that had been espaliered to include step-thises and -thats. Her cohort already numbers not only the children of second marriages and fellow solo mums, but also of gay couples, a traditional mummy-daddy duo who used an egg donor, and most recently a transitioning (and divorcing) father. That each of these families looks a little different to some of those in her storybooks is accepted without comment.
Would that the rest of the world were as accepting as the under-fives. Instead, this fast-evolving family portrait has left certain sections of the adult population struggling to keep up. As modern kinship kaleidoscopes into new and ever more intriguing formations, a scuffle over the definition and ownership of the word “family” has broken out, establishing yet another battlefront in the interminable culture wars. It has been co-opted by those for whom it’s inseparable from laden words such as “values.”
For instance, on the other side of the Atlantic, “family friendly”—a mild term that once stood for middling entertainment and dismal dining experiences—has been weaponised to menace even the Hallmark Channel, a saccharine purveyor of the myth that family is one giant, marshmallow-y group hug. At the end of last year, the channel aired adverts for a wedding company that depicted a lesbian couple kissing, inciting the ire of a group calling itself One Million Moms (1MM). “It is clear that Hallmark is…