Defining Family

As a woman in her 40’s without children, there is a conversation I have with people I meet that is on constant repeat.  It’s a conversation that drives me nuts.  It’s a conversation about the definition of family.

The conversation goes like this:

“Do you have children”?

“No, I don’t”.

This is when the person I am talking to looks at me with eyes filled with pity.  

“Aren’t you sad you don’t have a family”?  

“I do have a family”?  

“Oh, I thought you said you didn’t have children”.  

“No, I don’t have children but I do have a family.  I have a fiancé and four dogs.  I have a Mum and Dad.  I have a Grandmother.  Sisters.  Nieces and nephews.  Aunts and Uncles.  And cousins”.

“Oh sorry.  I meant aren’t you sad you don’t have children to complete your family”.  

Then they look at me with those eyes filled with pity again.  And this is where I start to get a little pissed off because I know what’s coming next.

“Could you not have children’?  

There are three reasons why a woman in her 40's doesn't have children. She hasn't been able to have them. She's chosen not to have them. Or she hasn't met someone to have them with. I'm happy to share my answer to this with friends of mine. But not so much with people I don't know. To me it's a very personal question. 

I once had a patient ask if I had children.  He was a guy in his late 50’s.  When I said I didn’t his response knocked me for a six. He said, “so you are one of these selfish people that has decided to put your career before bringing up a family”.  

Needless to say I nearly lost it at this point. Instead I finished up his treatment and booked him in with a male colleague. My colleague didn't have children either. But I'd bet money they didn't have the same conversation. As he left the clinic I muttered, “you’re an arsehole” under my breath.  Then got on with my day.  

The other question I get asked a lot is, “aren’t you scared you will die alone”?

If you are thinking this then let me tell you a little home truth.  I have worked in Aged Care for the past five years.  And I’m sorry, but even if you have kids it does not mean they will be there at the end of your life.  Until you are dying.  Then they turn up like flies on a bull.  

If your kids visit, or ring you on the phone every day when you are older, you are truly blessed.  Believe me.

In all honesty this last question does bother me at times.  Not because we don’t have children, but because we don’t live anywhere near family.  So I may die alone.  And I do think about that sometimes.  Particularly with the industry I work in.  But hopefully I won’t have to face that for a while.  And things may change.  So right now I choose not to loose sleep over it.

Even though we haven’t been blessed with children we have been blessed with having a family.  We are both very close to our families. Even if they drive us to drink at times.

And what we have come to realise is something very special.  That whenever anyone needs us (particularly our nephews and nieces) we can be there.  Because we don’t have kids we can put up our hands, take them in and give them the time they need.  And that’s a pretty cool role to have in life.

I’m not sure what the point of my rant is this week.  Except to say, once again, you get to make your own definitions of what this thing called life is all about.  You get to define what family means to you.  Not what society defines it as.  It’s completely up to you.

For many people the definition of family does include children.  But if it doesn’t, that’s ok too.  Just know that you aren’t alone if you are one of the special people that have been put on this earth to be the best dog-mum ever.  Or best aunty.  Or best friend.  Or best partner.  That's a very special role to have.


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