Cultural Diversity and Inclusion in the Arts in New York State’s Southern Tier
Family, as defined by Webster’s Online Dictionary, is “the basic unit in society traditionally consisting of two parents rearing their children.”
If I were a sitcom mom from the 50’s, when the nuclear family was made up of a mother, a father, and 2.5 children, this rather limited definition of family might have served to help my children better understand their place in this world. But, I am not June Cleaver, nor do I, or my family, fit into Webster’s canned explanation.
I am a child of divorce, yielding both step-parents and step-siblings. I am a lesbian raising two daughters. They are my biological children, but know no father in their lives. Sharing in the responsibility of raising these beautiful girls is my long time partner of 11 years, with whom I have had a commitment ceremony which is not yet recognized as a legally sanctioned wedding in our state. My partner has adopted both our daughters, and is as much their mother as I am, despite the fact that they are not biologically related to her.
In today’s society, where 40-50% of all marriages end in divorce, an estimated one million children in the United States live with adoptive parents, and 6 of our 50 states legally recognize gay marriage, with more to follow suit, the traditional view of the American family no longer suits most of us, challenging perspectives and pushing the boundaries of social and political views that the concept of family has often been held to.
Legally and politically, I am, for the most part, not deemed worthy, or even worse, perceived as a threat, to the meaning, tradition and sanctity of a legal marriage and all the “perks” of such a union. I cannot be carried on my partner’s health insurance. We cannot file joint tax returns. And we have had a myriad of legal documents drawn up by lawyers, including the adoption of our daughters, to legitimize our relationship, and ensure my partner’s place in our children’s lives.
However, when we have sought out any type of social assistance (WIC, financial aid, Medicaid benefits) our relationship springs to life, and we are obligated to name each other, claim each other’s income, and share each other’s debt. I struggle to understand and accept this duplicitous hypocrisy. And, I struggle even more to explain to my children where we, as a family, fit.
What I have come to realize is that we are not defined by DNA, bloodlines, or marital contracts. Because these things don’t always apply to my family, we have chosen to define our family in love. The girls grew in my belly, but they grew in my partner’s heart. We have been fortunate enough to find a school that welcomes and supports us, a church that accepts and embraces us, friends that have become aunts, mothers, Grandparents…family.
Me, my partner, our girls…we are the meat and potatoes of our family, but we are but a small part of what we call our family. We are immersed in the rich gravy of our community, tossed together with the colorful and nourishing vegetables that are our friends, our faith, our support.
We are family stew: a recipe made with love.