I have a bone to pick with some words today. These are words I hear a lot in the bubble where I live, or see posted frequently on Facebook or other blogs. I’m at the right life stage for them to top-of-mind for a lot of people in my circle. They take on a few variations.
We’re thinking about starting a family. When are you planning to start a family?
We are excited to be starting our family!
Let’s be real: starting a family is used a euphemism for having kids. And that bothers me.
I started a family the day I said yes to Andy’s “Will you marry me?”
When you’re filling out a form at the dentist’s office and it asks about your family members, you list your spouse. My parents were married for a number of years before they had me. Does that mean they weren’t family until the day they brought me home from the hospital? That they weren’t a family when they moved across the country together? Many couples are unable to have children. Does that mean they can never be a family? Or, gasp, what if they dare to choose not to have children? Are they less of a family unit in their coupledom?
You might say it’s semantic to get so hung up on the wording, but what am I if not a pedant? I know that no one is doing it on purpose, but by phrasing the decision to have children as “starting a family,” you unintentionally discount the familial-ness of the childless.
How about we say it like it is?
We’re thinking having children.
When are you planning to have kids?*
We are excited to start planning for a baby!
*Side note: How about we also stop asking anyone this presumptious question, ever?
Is “child” a bad word? Is “baby” offensive? I’m anti-euphemism in most cases, and especially here, because there’s nothing at all dirty about using the real words.
Andy and I are a family. Full stop. When you think about it that way, it makes you realize how weighty a thing marriage is, really. You were born into a family, and maybe you get along with them, or maybe you don’t. You’ll always be part of that family. But when you leave the nest and get married, you have the amazing opportunity to build the family you want.
Your family isn’t born the day your first child is. Your family is born the day you reach out to a friend and invite her into your brokenness. Your family is born the moment you welcome a displaced friend to share your home while they’re down and out. Your family is born when you vow “for better or for worse, in sickness and health.” A friend of mine used the hashtag “framily” (FRiendfAMILY) on Instagram recently. She had just opened up on her blog about her struggles to conceive, and I know how much that “framily” means to her. She is in a family, baby or no.
Sometimes when Andy gets home he says, “Hello, family!” to me and the cat, and my heart swells a little at the word. (I’m not saying my cat is like your child. It’s totally different. But in my case, she happens to be a part of what I call my family.)
Andy and I are both only children, and last year my parents hosted a joint Thanksgiving celebration with my in-laws. We’re probably going to do that again this year. That’s what I call my family.
I know couples that have taken on a shared name when they married, such as HerLastName hyphenated with HisLastName or a portmanteau of the two (Hartley + Draper = Harper). What a lovely idea, to make that claim in your very name. “We are a family.”
But shared name or no, your spouse is your family. You can add to it by having a baby, you can welcome a new member into it, but you HAVE a family. And that’s beautiful and important and not something to be discounted with a euphemism.