What Is Family to Me?

Thoughts on Living with Others

Lee Gyeong-sin 2020-04-16

One of my brothers who had been making his home abroad visited me and was going to stay until the end of the year. We hadn’t been in touch by phone or mail. I think it’s good that he visits me for a month every year so we can catch up on things.


Although we used to live together as teens, now that each of us is living our own life separate from each other, I don’t see my younger siblings as my family any more. More like as close friends. My idea of family might sound strange to those who think of siblings of the same blood as their family, no matter where they live.  


Family should be related by marriage or blood?


▲ Family information forms (now prohibited) that schoolchildren had to fill out: are marriage and blood the only way to make a family?  ©Feminist Journal Ilda

Then what is family? I have long been seeking an answer to this question. I think I secretly believed a good family was the key to happiness.


Since my birth, I’ve been a member of a family of grandparents, parents, and siblings. Though it was not a nuclear family, it was quite an ordinary one in that it was formed by marriage and blood.


After going through modernization and urbanization, nuclear families have become the norm in our society- though many families still include the couple’s parents or siblings, as in my family when I was young. Family seemed then a basic unit of society in which members satisfied their sexual desire, reproduced future members, and provided emotional stability.


Then, does family exist for those who release their sexual drive outside the family, those who adopt children or can’t have babies or do not want to, those in homes where violence and verbal abuse are common or who think that parents and their children must’ve been enemies in their previous lives, those in homes in which there would be no bonding without pets or TV, or there’s no conversation between family members due to the Internet or smart phones, the fathers who live alone while their wives and kids live in English-speaking countries, or teenage runaways?        


We still have family formed by marriage and blood, but the meaning of the modern idea of family has been lost. Or at least it’s obvious that it’s not the type of family we see as a prerequisite for happiness.


And it shouldn’t be forgotten that there are kinds of family that are excluded because they do not match the idealized image of family formed by marriage and blood.


Married couples with no kids, those who see their pets as their kids, or those who have adopted children have no offspring to carry their bloodline. There are families of couples who have remarried after divorce, where the kids are not blood-related to one of their parents, or families of single parent and their kids. There are many kinds of family: straight couples who stay unmarried, gay couples, friends living together, singles.   


It’s not surprising that the modern concept of family is being challenged today because historically the definition of family has changed constantly. Just as the idea that “love” can be the element in starting a family was first embraced in the modern era, now “emotional intimacy” is expanding beyond love based on blood and heterosexual love, as can be seen in families formed with adoption, gay couples, and pets.


If living together can nurture not just mutual financial support and emotional bonding, but also emotional maturity…  


Ever since I was a child, I haven’t wanted to be involved in the institution of marriage or to have babies. Although I was raised in a family that was harmonious in its own way, I was aware that the male-dominated family didn’t give its members - especially the mother - happiness.


So I used to say firmly, “I’m going to stay single!” But I meant that I wouldn’t get married or have kids, not that I would live all by myself and be lonely. My idea of the sort of family that I wanted was clear and straight then.


▲ There are many possible ways to make a family… Dreaming of various ways of living together  ©Feminist Journal Ilda


Middle-aged now, I’m living with a divorced female friend, in a family made by neither marriage nor blood. The reasons I call this a family are that we share our daily life in such ways as having meals together, we help each other (even though we’re financially independent of one another), and we try to understand each other by having constant conversations. We sympathize with and encourage one another and at the same time we take care of, trust, and depend on each other. In the end, we are both an emotional and a financial partnership.


I believe that the fundamental essence of a good and happy family lies more in the kind of relationship whose members feel close to and help each other while making a life together, than in marriage and blood. If, in addition, it involved encouraging each other to develop emotional maturity, what could be a more ideal family?     


Dreaming of “various ways of living together”


Sure, some might want to keep associating family only with marriage and blood. And I wonder if the term “family” is appropriate for my idea of “various ways of living together.” In my experience, it does not quite fit. We might need another new name to stand for “living together” as a legal, social, and economic unit to fit this era, instead of “family,” to embrace a wider variety of ways of living together.


In other words, to include not only couples but also multiple people living together such as two divorced women living together with the children of either, three siblings living together, or four strangers living together, regardless of sexual intimacy.


But whatever the name is, it won’t matter. What really matters is providing a legal and institutional framework like France’s “civil solidarity pact” to guarantee the right to various ways of living together.


Ways of living together are as varied as individuals are. We need the open-mindedness and maturity to widen the definition of family beyond blood and marriage to embrace the many types of living together that exist.


By Lee Gyeong-sin

Published: November 9, 2009

Translated by Sach


*Original article: http://www.ildaro.com/5033


◆ To see more English-language articles from Ilda, visit our English-language blog(https://ildaro.blogspot.com).

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