One of my grad classes this term is on the sociology of the family. Thus far, we’ve had to define our family (who we include and why), as well as read through and identify with various theories. It’s made me think about family dynamics and definitions in a little bit of a different light, and I’m not surprised that my definition has changed over the years. Many people in the class related to what’s called structural functionalism or consensus theory; it’s basically that we have roles we play for the greater good because doing so keeps harmony. It explains the traditional breadwinner/homemaker view of family that so many of us grew up with. It’s what I started out believing would work for me as well. I like the idea of the balance and tradition. But as I mentioned in class, going through a divorce has changed that for me. It was probably one of the hardest parts of being divorced, being thrust out of that comfort zone. There is no balance in being a single parent. Managing a house and children singly means being self-reliant. Oftentimes frazzled, frustrated, scared, but stronger, and resilient. I now find myself identifying more with an exchange theory of relationships. One where each person brings a strength and weakness to the mix and thus a relationship is formed because it’s beneficial to both parties. While it sounds rather business-like (it is a bit pragmatic and rational), it makes more sense to me. By this definition, there is a constant process of give and take, a bargaining our textbook calls it, whereby people discuss what will work best for them. Maybe it’s not romantic, but I like the idea that whatever kind of relationship works for people is ok. There are no hard and fast rules. By this definition, I can also include whomever I’d like into my family. It’s not just blood that defines it. I have several people I consider family because they add meaning to my life. I benefit greatly by their addition. My local mom. Girlfriends who are like sisters. My boyfriend. And I include the dogs and my cat. (Not my daughter’s fish, though. I draw the line there. Besides, they keep dying, so it’s hard to keep track.) At any rate, thinking about family in an objective way has been interesting. I wonder how my own personal definition may continue to evolve. I’m grateful for my family–the intimate group I consider my immediate family as well as the larger, extended, crazy group related by blood and marriage. I’m lucky to have all of it.

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