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Thoughts on family

The commissions I’ve had for family trees have made me think just what is a family?

I am the middle of 3 sisters and my parents divorced when I was in my early teens. Back in the mid 1970s I only knew of one other person in my school who’s parents were divorced. I can remember at the time being rather embarrassed my parents weren’t together. I envied friends whose parents appeared happy and together and my family didn’t feel like a proper family. However, we adapted to seeing my Dad only at weekends and we probably got to spend more time with him than if he’d remained in the family home. My Mum found being a single parent to 3 teenage girls stressful and I certainly added to that stress, for a couple of years, by answering most questions (encompassing everything from “How are you today?” to “Where are you going?”) with  the rather pompous response of “You’ve no right to ask me that. It’s a gross invasion of my privacy” . I was a joy at 15.

We may have come from a “broken home” (how I loathe that expression) but my parents’ divorce brought my sisters and I closer together and made us more of a family. As children my elder sister and I were close but we excluded my younger sister and she and I would regularly try to cause each other serious physical harm! It was during our teens and coming to terms with our parents’ divorce that we forged a very strong three way bond.

As young adults my sisters and I shared a house together. My younger sister’s best friend would always be hanging around and she became (and still is) an honorary sister – supporting us when our Dad was dying.

These days my sisters (and honorary sister)and I are incredibly close. Even though we are scattered around the country we are in regular contact. Every January we embark on the sacred Girlie Getaway, where we bask in each others company for a long weekend, drinking each other in as if we were dehydrated marathon runners. Our respective husbands all get on, as do all our children, and family get togethers are eagerly looked forward to. As our children reach adulthood it is a real joy to see how the strong bond we have is now extended to the next generation. My musician brother- in-law, with little fuss, but a lot of thought, gives advice and support to my son who is about to embark on a career in the music business. The cousins enjoy and seek out each others’ company and the bonds between aunts, uncles and nieces and nephews are very strong.

A family used to be so easy to define: a nucleus of mum, dad, and children with an extended family of aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents. These days it is not so easy. The latest estimate (National Office of Statistics February 2013) is that in England and Wales 42% of marriages end in divorce.  Many children now grow up with a step-parent and step siblings, along with an extended step-family. Some gay couples choose to have or adopt children, so the traditional picture of the nuclear family of Mum and Dad and 2.4 children is not only old fashioned but also inappropriate. Family lines are blurred but from my experience family will always mean acceptance, support and love; whether that encompasses a blood tie or not.