You don’t need kids to “start a family”

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This week we’ll be running posts that celebrate families we don’t discuss often enough — Child-Free, adoptive families, and families made of friends — to name a few.

Aaron's drawing of our family. (Dogs not to scale)
Aaron’s drawing of our family. (Dogs not to scale)
I come from a big family who came from big families. My grandfather was one of eight siblings, my mother is one four siblings, and my mother and each of her siblings has had three kids. Now those three kids are all starting to have three (or more!) kids.

Except for me.

I’m married, and, if things go according to plan, we won’t ever have kids. Or, as some of my family members have put it “start a family.” Now, I take issue with that phrase…

When the last time one of the members of my enormous family asked me, “So when are YOU going to start a family?” I couldn’t help but reply, “I already have!” For a moment, I almost felt bad for getting snarky, because her eyes lit up with glee, “Really!?” “Yup, you were there when I started.” Glee turned to a look of confusion, slightly startled. “Remember when Aaron and I got married? Done!” Family. Fucking. Started. No kids necessary.

Which is not to say you have to get married to start to family, but my particular family unit happens to be just me and that guy I married. Does that make MY family any less “familial” than my cousin, his wife, and their three-going-on-four kids? Because I’m pretty sure I feel as crazy about, and as close to my family of two as anyone feels towards their family of five or six.

The members of my little family are not related by blood, but apparently neither was I blood related to the woman I called my “aunt” all my life. When I got old enough to learn she wasn’t blood-related, related-by-marriage, or anything like that, I was shocked. But afterwards I loved her and didn’t consider her to be anything less than my aunt. (Hell, the same can be said for adopted family members!) I also have blood relatives that I wouldn’t even pause to throw a rope to if they were drowning on a warm day and I was wearing an uncomfortable jacket MADE of rope.

Blood… children… a family needs not these things.

Just like any family complete with kids, we have our rough times, and we both tough it out. We, at times miserably, stick together, and work on the relationship. Because we’re a family and we love each other, gawd-damn-it. In fact, I actually fight harder to keep our family together and in healthy working order than I will with my family of origin, because he and I are my favorite family — the family that I got to CHOOSE.

And when I think about what’s best for my family, yes, I’m really just thinking about what’s best for Aaron and me (and, sometimes, the dogs — but that’s a totally different post). But I do actually think, in my mushy little brain’s inner monologue, “What’s best for my family?”

Because, even if there’s only two of us… hey, that’s all it actually took to start my family.

Comments on You don’t need kids to “start a family”

  1. Awesome post! My husband and I have felt like family since we met, and we never felt as if we were “having a family” when I got pregnant and we had our son, we were growing it.

    Your family is who you consider to be family, who feels like family. My son also has an aunt that is not related by blood, marriage, or adoption. But she’s our family, and she loves hin and cares for I’m, while my brother, his biological uncle, has barely seen him and doesn’t really care about him.

    • “we never felt as if we were “having a family” when I got pregnant and we had our son, we were growing it”
      Saying THIS wasn’t enough, I just have to really second this sentiment.

  2. I <3 you! As someone who is currently discussing closing the door on children definitively, this is just the post I needed. I've said all my life that I didn't want children, and my husband feels the same. But over the past year or so, I've been wondering about all those "You'll see"s. We're at a point where we need to decide within the next few months whether we'll be postponing the decision, scheduling his vasectomy, or starting to plan for babies. Part of the reason I've been struggling with this is not because I suddenly wanted children, but because I've been having a hard time remembering that our family of two is already a family. Thank you for this reminder. πŸ™‚

  3. YES! To this entire post! Especially this: “”Remember when Aaron and I got married? Done!” Family. Fucking. Started. No kids necessary.” My husband and I are now on the fence about kids and, maybe because I’ve always felt kids don’t make a family, I’m a bit surprised by people who think babies are a requirement for a family. I also love the point that blood isn’t required either. Great post!!

  4. hear hear πŸ™‚ I do have a kid, but this whole “starting a family” thing always annoyed me. I started a family when I got married. Me + husband = family! Anyone additional is just extra. Also what happens if someone had children but lost them through an accident or illness? Do they get demoted into “not a family” all of a sudden?

  5. Darn skippy, sister! It just sucks that people ever think our lives would be missing something without kids! I love kids, I just don’t want to have any of my own, nor does my BF. And I recall it being a HUGE factor when I was dating in my late 30s because there would be dudes that would want them & that was a dealbreaker for ME! I’ve always been maternal with friends, partners, pets (YES!). There are so many other ways to be nurturing other than giving birth…. Family is defined in how you create it!
    (PS – I just LOVE that you are dedicating a week to this!!!)

  6. I find that phrase/outlook problematic, too. Be proactive about rejecting and reframing it! When I got married last year, we purposely used language like “publicly acknowledge and celebrate our love for each other and our commitment to create family together”. And when a coworker asked me the other day (referencing the book on adoption I was reading) whether I “want a family”, I smiled and said, “I already have one, but yes, we’ve been talking about adopting children for a while.” Generally people will take your point if you make it nicely and don’t pretend you don’t understand what they’re really asking.

    • Yes. I think that when people say “staring a family” they don’t actually think that two married people are NOT a family. It’s just a generic way, of asking if children are in the future. The phrase is not ideal, but I think we all know what is meant when someone says that.

  7. i find that kids = family to be very troubling… my boyfriend works in the hospitality industry, and he has to work on christmas constantly because he doesnt “have a family”. its very upsetting. its even more upsetting when you vent to someone about this and they tell you that those other people deserve christmas off for their kids more then you do. their family is more valid. ugh. i hate it!

    • So, of course, they should phrase it better and tell him he’s working Christmas because he doesn’t have kids rather than that he doesn’t have a family, but holidays like Christmas are a WAY bigger deal to kids than adults. I don’t think it has to do with anyone’s family being more valid or anyone deserving the day more – it’s just the reality of how crazy important that day is to kids in a way it just isnt to adults. I always worked Christmas pre-kid and I was glad to let my co-workers with kids get to experience that crazy happy kid joy that comes when they still believe in the magic of Santa and all that. Back then sure I would have LIKED to be with my family but now that I have a kid, I realize how huge it was to them and I’m glad I didn’t get all upset about it. Besides, his co-workers will probably happily cover for him on more adult holidays like New Years or Valentines (at least that’s always how it worked for me).

      • My Fiance is a cop and we run into the same issue of “no kids = no holidays”. Especially because his boss seems to think kids need easter and new years and thanksgiving too. This year he worked Easter sunday, Wednesday Thursday and Friday of thanksgiving week, Christmas eve and Christmas day, New years eve and New years day because he is the only one with out kids. He’s already been told “no” for Valentines day because he doesn’t have a wife yet. While a lot of people think yah Christmas day is for kids, its the other holidays that really irk me. Our family is not legitimate in their eyes because we haven’t married (yet) or reproduced. Single people deserve special days with their families too. A lot of people don’t seem to realize that.

        • One of my parents was a shift worker when we were growing up and there was an informal agreement at their workplace that if you worked Christmas you didn’t work New Years (& vice versa) and if you took holidays for the whole period one year, you had to work both the next. It worked out surprisingly well and most people would happily get their preference for which holiday they wanted to work, it’s a pity more places don’t factor this in.

  8. I agree with the 100%. My partner and I don’t have kids for a different reason (we can’t) but being made to feel like we’re not a real family because we don’t has been awful. I live with my little sister, and I see my niece and nephew a couple of times a week. I talk to my best friend every day and my partners best friend is over almost every night. When I am sad, or sick, or scared, I rarely call the people I’m related to by blood. But I do call my family.

  9. It simply doesn’t occur to some people that not everyone is like them, that not everyone has the same idea of what a family is. While I applaud introducing people to a wider definition of “family,” I don’t understand why there’s so much snark involved. I understand the irritation with the assumptions people make, but “Family. Fucking. Started.” is awfully aggressive. Not everyone is purposely trying to deride others for not having children; sometimes people mean well but often don’t consider things outside of their own personal ideas and experiences.

    • I don’t understand why there’s so much snark involved.

      That’s purely a reflection of my personality. I’m a snarky mother fucker. I’m sure if someone else had written this article there may have been less snark involved. πŸ˜‰

      But to clarify, I toooootally didn’t say “family fucking started” to my relatives face — that would have been way harsh, Tai. Like PlanningAhead suggested, I let the “I started my family when I got married” statement be my way of rejecting and reframing my relatives unintentionally insulting question.

  10. Yes! This has always been a pet peeve of mine. As if you and the person you have chosen to spend the rest of your life with are nothing until you add a child. It’s insulting to you and your relationship with the person you love to suggest it.

  11. Hellz yes. I feel semi-stupid saying this, but my husband and I consider our six pets (4 cats and 2 giant dogs) to be our furry children.

    They all have distinct personalities and likes and dislikes. They have favorite humans (one dog is definitely a mama’s boy and the other is a total daddy’s girl, and lord help you if you get between me and my Jazzy cat). They make our lives so much better, and we’ll make weekend plans taking them into consideration. Their “grandmother” knows all of their names and includes them in the “to” field of holiday cards.

    While we’re in the process of attempting to procreate (unexplained infertility is THE BEST >< ), I don't want my furbabies' role in our lives diminished by the addition of a tiny human.

      • It’s okay, my mom calls our cats her “grand kitties” and even makes sure to bring them treats each time she visits. LoL

        Also, awesome post Megan. Kids doesn’t equal a family.

        I come from a huge family too (Italian) where my parents come from an even bigger family. Yet everyone keeps asking me when we’re going to start having kids (which is such an awkward question if you think about it. they’re basically asking you if ya’ll are having unprotected sex. :facepalm: ).

        Finally, I just told them all off (as nice as I can, as I tend to be very blunt/snarky at times): “We’re a family even though we don’t have kids right now. There might be adopted kids in the future, but until then, please leave us alone about the topic”

        Which as a side warning, mentioning adopted kids to various family members brings up another whole slew of questions. If it helps anyone, I usually just respond with “It’s just our preference” and leave it at that.

        Blarg. This ended up being longer than I originally intended. Sorry for the mini paragraphs. ^_~*

      • I know that I’m late to this conversation, but I feel the need to add that my mother-in-law refers to our pet hermit crabs as her “grand-crabs.” It cracks me up every single time. It’s so nice to be part of this community. πŸ™‚

      • A late comment here, but I couldn’t resist adding that both my parents have referred to me, when talking to their dogs, as “auntie”. This was at different times, in different places with different dogs. My parents have been separated for decades, it’s not like they came up with it together – they just both naturally called me “auntie” to their dogs!

    • Funny story: we have two cats and a dog. We consider them our “daughters,” to the point where, when I do little voice-overs for the animals, I refer to my fiance and I as “Daddy” and “Mommy,” respectively.

      My mother has been trying to convince us to get rid of the pets ever since we got them because pets are expensive and heartbreaking. So I was surprised to see that she bought a Christmas present for our dog. She told me not to tell the cats that she had forgotten their presents, since she didn’t want them to think their Gramma was playing favorites.

      Naturally, thinking she was kidding, I sent her a picture the next day of my cats looking sad and captioned it, “Don’t you love us, Gramma?” My mother actually got annoyed and called me, saying, “I TOLD you not to tell them! I feel like a horrible grandmother!”

      She’d gone from telling us to get rid of them to realizing that we love these little pains-in-the-ass and that if they’re OUR family, they’re HER family, too. Even if she doesn’t approve.

      Just goes to show: family has nothing to do with marriage, blood, approval, or species. Family begins at love.

      • My fiancΓ©e and I do the mommy and daddy voiceovers for our dogs too. Our favorite is when I do my Chris Farley in Tommy Boy impression “I gotta go to the bathroom daddy!’ when our youngest dog starts whining to go out.

    • My friend gave me a wooden sign at Christmas time that says “My Kids Have Paws”. It is so true, our cats are the kids in our family. They are the best kids EVER, I wouldn’t trade them for a human kid for anything.

  12. Love this post. This is why I get bristly whenever friends invite us around for “orphans” christmas. I’m not an orphan, thanks very much. I just spent christmas with my family of my husband, our cat and our dog!

  13. I feel lucky that no one has ever bugged me about when I would “start a family” or have kids. I didn’t feel like a family with my partner before we had a kid, though. Some months after having a kid it occurred to us that we had a family. It felt a little onerous, but kind of cool. Being responsible for a kid is very different from the responsibility you feel towards a partner. When I think about family, I think of both the traditional concept, and the wider net of “people who care for each other.” I don’t necessarily think they’re mutually exclusive. But I do like the idea of everyone defining family for themselves. We don’t have to buy into anyone else’s definition.

  14. *clap clap clap*

    There is no one size fits all family. Mine includes parents, friends, cats, in-laws, and someday adoptive kids. This is what works best for us. Family is completely subjective, and that’s what makes it cool. I have “family” members who are related to me by blood but I would have no desire to speak to, and I have people who have no biological, legal, or adoptive claim to me that have 100% of my heart. Thank you for sharing your story. (Oh, and I love the jacket made of rope description- very, very apt.)

  15. My family is me, my partner, and our son. Who happens to be a dog. They are my fambly. End of story.

    We also have a cat, but like many cats I have had, he just lives with me until he finds someone with more gooshy food to give him.

  16. YES! Thank you! We are still super undecided if we even want kids, and I’m all about more people recognizing family doesn’t necessarily equal two parents and kids. THANK YOU!

  17. Thanks for posting this! This is something that I really struggle with, and have a hard time finding support and others who relate. My S.O. and I have been in a loving, 100% committed relationship for 5+ years, at least 4 of which we have been living together.

    We have no plans of getting married, we attempted it once after being together for a year and a half and our terrible families made everything so awful that it really turned us off from the whole idea.

    We both have a hard time though with people refusing to take our relationship seriously because we don’t have rings and a piece of paper. (Please don’t take this as callous, I love weddings and am not against marriage for others, just isn’t for me/us).

    It is so hard also with introductions because he is not my husband or fiance, but he is also not just my boyfriend. There is no real word to convey our relationship. So frustrating!

    We do plan to eventually have children, which will bring on a whole new set of “unmarried parents” issues. I do have to admit that I secretly selfishly like the idea of having “children out of wedlock” and then reminding his parents that they should have embraced a marriage when they had the chance.

    • Fantastic Post!! Thank you, thank you, thank you for writing it. It’s like you took what was in my head and my heart and put it on paper. Soo glad to hear I’m not the only women in the world that thinks like this. My family started when my SO and I decided to stick it out through thick and thin and we grew our family from 2 to 3 when we got our Boxer last year. Now that boy IS our kid!

      @Heather: I just wanted to say HOORAY! for your post. I totally fit into the same boat as you (“We both have a hard time though with people refusing to take our relationship seriously because we don’t have rings and a piece of paper.” & “It is so hard also with introductions because he is not my husband or fiance, but he is also not just my boyfriend. There is no real word to convey our relationship. So frustrating!”). Add to it that he does not want bambinos EVER and I jump from one side of the fence to the other depending on my hormones. I guess we are just destined to be the Black Sheep of the family. Though sometimes I find it exhausting and think that if we just followed “tradition” (ie: love, marriage, babies) it would just make things so much easier.

      • I’m just going to supportively disagree. Following tradition may be tempting to make things easier. But really how often does your family bother you about it? Once a week? Just holidays? My guess is none of them are calling you with the frequency of a hungry infant.

  18. Great post! I’ve had similar knee-jerk reactions to some people make comments about my family in recent times. I have a daughter from a previous relationship and then married an awesome guy who is her step-dad. I recently became pregnant, and I was amazed at how often i heard a phrase like “Now you really have a family!” or “now your family is complete!” because apparently having a husband with a step-child isn’t enough of a family and we needed to seal the deal with a child of our own. Sadly I guess it’s societal norms rearing it’s ugly head and making people feel like “family” is a certain thing. Hell, my animals are as much my children as my human kids, and I’ve had people laugh at that. They are just missing out on the joys of difference!

  19. Even though I am now pregnant, I define our family to have been created when we got married, and then expanded when we got our kitties πŸ™‚ I also define our family as the merging of our wider families, especially as I love spending time with his family!

  20. I love this post! It’s particularly timely given the recent shift from Offbeat Mama to Offbeat Families.

    I submitted an immigration visa application in December. In my personal statement I said, “my partner and I are looking forward to building a home together for our family.” I am child-free by choice and while I’d hadn’t thought much about my “family” prior to writing the application, I genuinely felt that statement reflected my feelings for my partner, our relationship and our life together.

  21. This one is tough for me. I totally agree with everything Megan said on an intellectual level, and I do make it a point to refer to other committed couples as families.
    But. I’m getting married in a couple of months and we’re really on the fence about having kids. I’ve realized that I don’t feel like we’re a family as long as it’s just the two of us (which doesn’t mean I definitely want to have them, either). This may change after the wedding, but right now I find it so frustrating! I don’t apply that criteria to anyone else, so why do I apply it myself? Why can’t my head and heart just get in line??

    • SOOOO this just my opinion, but I feel like a contributing factor to this could totally be that the dominant culture, especially in the US, really drills in the whole “two parents + kid(s) = family” and that kind of repeated lesson in what is “supposed to be” can be very, very powerful to challenge — even just for yourself. I personally struggle with always hearing that families with only children aren’t “real” families, or that only children are missing out by not having siblings (we have an only child), despite plenty of evidence to the contrary. I’m not bringing this up to derail the conversation (this is not the thread to discuss only children) — just wanted to point out a personal example I have.

      ANYWAYYYY.. just an idea I had. πŸ™‚

    • The head-heart disconnection is poetically and scientifically explained in the book A General Theory of Love. This is an amaaaazing book, especially if you struggle to understand conflicting desires. To get you started: there are three “brains” within your brain. They are products of evolution, so while they are all connected, they don’t necessarily coordinate in a way that “makes sense” in our experience of it. I also second Stephanie–socialization is no joke. Good luck~you don’t have to have it all figured out yet!!!

    • I think someone further up in the comments said something alongs the lines of them not feeling like a family with just their partner, but then feeling like a family when they got pets, because of the responsibility involved. Pets/kids rely on you, and it adds an entirely new dynamic to the “family”. So I just think some people think of “family” as two or more loved ones, and some people think of “family” as requiring a parent/child relationship, with the dependency and responsibility. You just think of family as the latter, which is how much of society thinks of it. But I am sure you think of you and your partner as a unit of some kind, comprised of two people who love each other. You don’t have to call it family. It’s still important and wonderful and there! πŸ™‚

  22. This is interesting. I’ve always kind of just lurked on Offbeat Mama, now Offbeat Families, so I can have something to add to the conversation with my friends as most of them now have kids. But I didn’t really think that I belonged on this site because my husband and I don’t want to have kids. How refreshing to think, “Hell yes, we are a family too!”

  23. Amen, sister!

    My favorite part:
    “I also have blood relatives that I wouldn’t even pause to throw a rope to if they were drowning on a warm day and I was wearing a jacket MADE of rope.”

    Family is who you choose.

    • Enormous standing O for the idea that family is who/what you choose to be family. Blood is most definitely not the defining factor. (*Side note: I find this awesome from a biological standpoint that we are able to ignore bloodlines in favour of other more relevant considerations).

      Not giving up the rope jacket is something I can wholeheartedly understand.

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