In the West we have a problem. But don’t worry, there’s a fix for it, and apparently it’s approved by mums.
This preppy little phrase has recently crept into our advertising, reviving in us the outdated motto that mother knows best. It seems that society feels like without an apron wearing, wooden spoon brandishing wife in rollers we might not know which cleaning product to use, which nappies to buy or how best to entertain children with saccharine snacks. Despite the rise in the number of families with working mothers we still like to pretend that nuclear family not only exists, but is to be idealised. This International Day of Families too many of us will still be labouring under the ideal that Mum, Dad, Tilly, Tom and Rover the dog are celebrating with a home cooked family dinner.
Our tunnel vision of the family is exclusionary, prejudiced and frankly counter-productive. Throughout the world ‘family’ is stretched to fit a plethora of lifestyles, some you may not even recognise. Remember the first time you realised your family was a bit weird? That not every family wore matching yellow anoraks when on they went on walking holidays in Wales. That some families produced Christmas musicals containing the smallest members of their brood that were so elaborate they could rival the West End. That not every family talked to each other the way yours did. Variation in family exists in one community, on one street, let alone across continents. We get so caught up in the definition, in the semantics, that we forget the sentiment. Family is no more blood than it is bonds. Family are the people who care for you, support you, respect you and protect you. Family has never been so complicated, or less so. The only thing that has ever been simpler has been the stereotype.
After the genocide in Rwanda people built families from whoever they could cling to. When you’ve lost your blood relatives and seen your village consumed by an evil you can barely speak of, you do the most human thing you can; cling to each other. WomenforRwanda is about hearing the stories we wish have never even happened, hearing the voices of Rwandan women because their stories are bittersweet, beautiful and full of life. So this International Day of Families, go and tell the story of your family. Tell it to your kids, your friends and your work colleagues. Then ask them for the story of their family.
Every family is different, some have ugly sides, some have silly sayings but all have an awesome role in shaping us as people, and us as a society. Go tell your story and remind yourself that family is more than a six letter word.
By Claire Smith