33: The difference difference makes. #LifeWideLearning16

I fundamentally disagree with the opening line of Anna Karenina: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” It supposes that to be happy, you must perform a sameness or adhere to a stereotype. In today’s understanding of family, it builds an ideal happiness for families as two monogamous parents with compliant children who own their own home and live uneventful lives. This is understood. This is cannon. Not just in Anna Karenina, but in every tv show or movie.

If the parents add any complexity to their relationship, the marriage is over, happy family done. If the children are even a bit defiant or outside the range of “normal”, the family is broken, happy family ended. In fact, the vast majority of all family drama within our media landscape comes from exceptional children or nontraditional parenting roles. Everyone else seems to accept this deviation from normal as a deviation from happiness. Even in more progressive family setups like “Modern Family” or “Parenthood”, things fall apart and unhappiness abounds when a woman has to choose between two lovers or the children don’t want to go to college.

Happy families are all happy in their own ways.

Families are not a mold from which to break, but rather a daily experience to embrace and to create. The happiest families I know are inclusive, rather than exclusive. They are constantly expanding the relationships that are possible for the adults and the children. They do not limit what is possible to what is expected, but are pushing the boundaries of family and learning what matters most to each individual and as a whole.

Most importantly, happy families are not static. They are ever changing. For every new phase that the children experience, so too do the adults in trying to support them. For every child that is added to the family, the family creates a new kind of happiness. As a father of three children, my happiness is not more or less than a family with one. It is different, and dramatically so.

I often tell people that I have had at least two marriages, but that I am fortunate to have had them both with the same woman. There was no second ceremony or a separation in the middle. Rather, we just continually choose one another as husband and wife. It is our happiness together and our ever expanding plurality of love that makes it so.

Our family is not one that you would expect from novels or what you see on Netflix or network TV. It is not a broken home or an unhappy mess. Rather, it is a daily learning experience that hovers around the happiness of being authentic with one another. We are not alike anyone else, but we are happy.

Leave a Reply