Destroying the Cleaver legacy
We see evidence of a strife to break down cultural baggage about what it means to be a man, or a woman. To re-imagine gender as not directly connected to one's genitalia. Because we're learning, slowly, that there isn't just one definition. And when you put people in boxes, their world shrinks. And then the whole world is filled with boxed up people who don't know how to grow into their own skin.
The same is true for family. We see families that are contrary to the Cleavers, the arrangements are unlimited. Single parent, 2 dads, 2 moms, grandparents, no parents, 19 children, no children by choice, no children by infertility, lost children, step-children, foster children, and on and on. We say we accept them, and for the most part we believe we do. And yet, these contrary families still feel that tug of the Cleaver legacy burden. It happens in simple moments, ordinary interactions that have no ill-will, like "Are you her babysitter? Oh! It's just I've seen her get picked up from school by another woman before." Or, "Hey, can your son come over and play today?" which is met with "I'm sorry, no, he's at his dad's until Friday." And then a response of "Oh bummer. My kid will be so sad." I'm sure your kid will indeed be so sad ... for a minute. Meanwhile, I'll keep myself busy these next few days until I see my kids again and try to catch up with them on the time we spent apart. And then after a couple of days we'll give our hugs on the front porch before school, I'll kiss them good-bye and say again, "I'll see you in a few days." To my own children, weekly, "I'll see you in a few days." It never gets less weird. It always breaks my heart. And I can feel the tug of June Cleaver's critical glance: well you were the one who chose divorce.
There are plays in motion. Our television shows are beginning to depict a new offering of what family can be. But when did looking to TV as a model for real life ever prove to be effective? There's still this tugging of legacy, that by being a "modern family" we're bucking the status quo! That status quo that still knocks at the front door daily with sidelong glances and assumptions. And when we can't (or won't) live up to the status quo, when the one dad, one mom, 2 kids and a healthy income don't pan out, there's depression, there's guilt, there's rage, there's suffering. There's still that box of an ideal that didn't work out, and it's confining. The nuclear ideal has to go away completely. I get what Ariel was saying. You may indeed be in a loving family that has one man, one woman, 2 kids and identify as white. They're yours. Enjoy each other. Love each other. Celebrate your family. But to keep that one structure on a pedestal above others -- even if we don't realize it -- is setting us all up for disaster.
There is more opportunity to grow when we're not constrained. It's physics. (Right? I never took a physics class.) But it's obvious at a basic cellular level. A sunflower won't reach for the sun if it never sees it. We must strive to let go of tired notions of what family looks like. To expand empathy. To truly embrace each other. To be able to grow.
It's the love that defines family, not the structure. Let's all agree to aspire to love as the status quo of family, even if it must sometimes be filled with too many good-byes.