Where Family Begins

“We want to start a family.” How many times have you heard young couples say that sentence? It’s a bit weird, if you think about it. Who decided you’re only family once you have kids? Shouldn’t you consider your partner family already? What about married couples who choose to not have kids? Are those not families?

Family can be a rollercoaster, but it’s not a theme park ride. “Must be at least three people to enter.” That’s not how it works, but, as partially evidenced by divorce rates of nearly 50% and higher, many people forget or gloss over this fact. How many couples get married because they happened to get pregnant? How many try to save their marriage by having kids? There are no precise numbers, but these things occur every day, and they often don’t end well.

Reserving the concept of family for “a group of at least three or more” is like skipping a rung on a ladder: It might work, but you might also fall. Why not put one foot in front of the other?

When you’re in a multi-year, committed relationship, treat your partner like you’d treat a cherished family member. Take anyone who works for you as a proxy. Your dad. Your sister. Your nephew. If you bring them a gift from your travels, pick up one for your partner too. In some ways, treating your partner like family will be obvious and easy. In other situations, it’ll be hard and easy to miss.

How will you go out of your way to treat your partner well? What will you give up to make time for them, to balance your relationship with all your other obligations? Because heads up: This will only get harder after you have kids. Don’t wait to learn juggling until you have three balls in the air. Practice with two for as long as you can.

I imagine this problem is exacerbated for couples in which one person wants to have kids more so than the other. Unless both are happy to sacrifice a lot for their child, one will now really feel left in the dust. And I think this breaks many couples’ backs. If you can’t think and move as a unit before your “team” grows, it’ll only get harder with each additional member.

This is a new idea for me, but it immediately made sense when it first struck me. Being a good boyfriend is as important as it will be to be a good husband or a good dad. The stakes may increase as our roles change, but in reality, they already start out high enough to warrant our very best effort.

Family is a birth-right but also a birth-obligation. Most importantly, however, it is a choice. People choose families they have no blood-ties to all the time — and for most, that process starts when they decide who shall be their life partner.

Don’t wait for the official label. Don’t listen to what society prescribes, especially when it’s not working for half the people. You choose who you love, and that’s where family begins — let’s make it count.