What Makes a Family?

8 Min Read

Nadira Tasnim

The definition of the word family that Google offers is, “a group consisting of two parents and their children living together as a unit”. This seems terrifyingly specific and binding,  especially if you have dreamed as a child of living in a large house with three dogs and four cats. Just me? Okay.

Ahem, moving on.

Most people, especially in Bangladesh, consider it a moral duty to give birth to children as soon as possible after marriage, as though the world weren’t overpopulated enough already. Thankfully, people are breaking free of the rules set by society and creating their own definitions of family. I spoke to Katherine Bell, behavioural therapist and proud mother of two cats and a turtle, to offer her opinions on non-traditional families.

“As long as a parent is willing to offer love to any child,” she says, “it doesn’t matter if it is a traditional household or not. Besides, mother and father figures can be found everywhere outside of the home.”

Though it’s probably still a long way to go before Bangladesh sees an abundance of non-traditional families, we can still look forward to it and give love and acceptance to families that break societal norms.


Single parents

Single parents are prone to judgement from friends and relatives. While single dads are constantly pressured to get remarried, mothers, if divorced, usually face ridicule as it is somehow seen as their fault that the marriage ended. They need love and support more than anything;  raising a child alone while also handling a job is bound to be difficult and stressful. Rather than asking if they plan to get married again, they should be shown that they have someone to rely on.


Adopted children

But you would just let your family line die with you?

I would rather not have my children carry your judgemental genes, thank you very much.

It’s despairingly sad that adoption isn’t a more normalised idea in our country. Many children living in orphanages aren’t given the opportunity of a healthy and happy future and often live in miserable conditions.

Couples may have many different reasons to adopt — too old or unable to have a child, wanting to make life better for an orphan, or simply not wanting to go through childbirth (a woman who doesn’t marvel at the idea of childbirth? She must be a monster!) — and whatever it is, it’s no one’s business.

Adoption is a simple procedure that can make the life of a child immensely better, and it is high time that it is seen as an option rather than a last resort.

Katherine says, “For people that adopt pets and children, we’re just giving them a chance at a better life. They have already been here, might as well make it worth it for them, right?”


Same-sex parents

I probably won’t be alive long enough to see same-sex marriage legalised in Bangladesh, but one can dream. Today, many queer people around the world can express their love freely and have their own, very non-traditional families. They face more than just judgement, however, since gay couples are often shunned and abused, often by their own family members.

But same-sex marriage is legal in 29 countries at present, while in 2010, the number rested at only 10. This provides room for hope for the future, and what we can do now is show support and teach acceptance to the coming generations.


Families with no children

But it was your job to give us grandchildren! That’s why we raised you!

Like adoption, couples can have many reasons to choose not to have children at all. What are they? Well, the only answer is, it’s not your business! Something that most couples face immediately after marriage is a horde of distant relatives asking them when they are planning to have children, as though the sole reason they got married in the first place was to quench their khalamma’s desires of squeezing infants’ cheeks.

Choosing to not have children is still a rare idea in our country, and it is high time people stopped seeing bearing a long line of descendants as the only reason for getting married. Motherhood is considered such a pivotal experience in a woman’s life that people often fail to see the detrimental effect it can have on a person’s mental and physical health.

“These days, people aren’t having nearly as many children in one household while some choose not to have any,” says Katherine. “It’s no one’s business. A child does not equate happiness for everyone.”

The idea is simple. A child is not a toy that can be returned when you get tired of it. The decision, therefore, is a monumental one and anyone who chooses not to have children should not be judged or questioned.


Pet children

A couple with pets instead of children counts as a family. Sorry, Mum, but you will have to do with a cat grandchild. You don’t even need to teach him algebra!

While it’s more common in the Western world to treat pets as family, in Bangladesh, pets are still considered accessories for children to play with. This idea needs to change. Not everyone is equipped to be a parent, and that’s okay. Pets can mean as much to someone as a child means to another.

When asked about her own pets, Katherine says, “My pets have always brought me joy. From the time we’ve adopted them and brought them home, we’ve started making lifetime-lasting memories. Sure, they may be a bit hairier than some of your human family members, but you’ve put up with worse.”

Blood isn’t the most important factor when it comes to defining a family. Your friends, neighbours, and colleagues can be your family. Anyone who provides love and support and makes you feel at home is your family. As Katherine says, “Families are meant to be support systems, so support other families.”

I’ll end the article with a Modern Family quote: “Family is family. Whether it’s the one you start out with, the one you end up with, or the family you gain along the way.”


Nadira Tasnim is a Harry Potter-obsessed math nerd who loves watching psychology videos in her free time.


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