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Long live the family
but not as we once knew it!

Tradition is not the absolute route any longer

By Marylin Smith Carsley

Complicated, unstable, loving, supportive, single, heterosexual, gay, divorced are many of the terms describing today’s family.

As a teacher I also became an enthusiastic student learning many life lessons through my varied interactions in the classroom. Besides teaching and guiding, I gained knowledge from many of my students. But most of all, I was educated about the family and what constitutes a solid one. It does not have to follow traditional rules but it must be supportive and caring. I was a witness many times over to the ones who failed frequently in these areas.

The family, sacred and also the basic unit of a human being’s life, connects us to society. The typical family once portrayed a father and a mother as the adult figures and occasionally grandparents as well. But what about two mothers, two fathers, or even a single parent at the helm? The world is encompassing assorted partnerships but the main query is which one is truly better for the children? This important unit has evolved into the most complicated and often re labelled social grouping. Not only has the composition altered over the years but the dynamics are constantly in flux as people earnestly try to accommodate their individual beliefs into making their own relationships work.

The family, sacred and also the basic unit of a human being’s life, connects us to society.

So what is the family today? In many cases it has transformed and moved away from that traditional label. Once upon a long time ago there was one father, one mother, and children. The father, the strong dominant figure, went out to work while the mother remained at home and cared for the children and all home details. Over time, women have been venturing out of that mold and occasionally becoming the primary wage earner and some men are transitioning into the caregiver. The neatly drawn lines defining lifestyles are fading. There are crossovers and shared responsibilities which creates more equality in the home. Women have definitely been instrumental in establishing this new version of the family and men have been slowly accepting these alterations.

The lid of suppressed identity has been gradually raised to allow for family modifications and not just with the male and female roles but also with the relationship status. Same sex couples are forming their family units with two mothers or two fathers and are much less inhibited about their lifestyle. Single mothers either by choice or by a failed marriage are stepping up proudly to create their family. If marriage does not occur in a woman’s life, having a baby is possible without a husband. There are many alternatives to following the old-style in order to have a family. The obvious reality is that the non- traditional family has become the traditional one.

‘The neatly drawn lines defining lifestyles are fading. There are crossovers and shared responsibilities which creates more equality in the home.’

Many years ago when I was teaching I experienced my first contact with this non-traditional family. When interview night was being scheduled, I requested that the kids sign their parents’ names on the list so I could organize times. One little girl wrote the names of two women where it should have been her mother and her father. When I asked her who both women were she casually replied that they were her two mothers and walked away. I sat there thinking, “two mothers?” Who has two mothers? Were they gay? Could a family like this function effectively for the benefit of the child? I really did not know, as I had never heard of this situation.

The sex of a parent does not in any way distinguish him or her as a better parent. It was definitely more challenging years ago when same sex parents were not as acknowledged or even when a child lived in a single parent home. Today, I believe that there is more acceptance of everything as long as the parents are loving, and nurturing so that a child feels the warm embrace and support of the adult figure or figures. Why do we ever need to judge when there is truly no norm for the perfect family setup?

‘If any family is loving and supportive whether it is two fathers, two mothers, one parent, then it becomes exactly what any child requires.’

What is truly not acceptable is criticism, dishonesty, cruelty, lack of respect and other adverse behaviours from those looking in and judging. If any family is loving and supportive whether it is two fathers, two mothers, one parent, then it becomes exactly what any child requires. Rather than assume anything, we should embrace any type of love, compassion and security, which are the fundamental criteria for a happy life.

Tradition is not the absolute route any longer. Today it is more about creating your own reality by following your heart and beliefs. An honest family unit will be the one in which children feel the most secure whether it is heterosexual, same sex, single, divorced or any other combination. The real issue is that whatever the setup is, it should be where children grow up with guidance and love from all. Criteria that inaccurately depicts that “picture-perfect family” should not be allowed to penetrate and should be ignored. Family perfection does not exist but if there is consistent love and support, the essential ingredients are in place. I witnessed this when those two very devoted mothers of long ago faced me during that interview. They epitomized real parents and portrayed the loving devotion of a true cohesive family.

Image: Caitlin Childs via StockPholio.net

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 Read also: Second in command: The grandparents


Marylin Smith Carsley is a Westmount writer whose work has appeared in several publications.


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