Mar-riage (n):  the state of being united to a person of the opposite sex as husband or wife in a consensual and contractual relationship recognized by law

This is the current definition of marriage found in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, although it may well change in the near future as more and more people push for the legal recognition of same-sex marriage.  But aside from the legal aspect, don’t couples form their own definition of what marriage is for them?  Not every marriage has the same “rules”, the same expectations, the same roles.

Some married couples have children, some don’t; some couples share bank accounts and others have separate accounts.  Some couples sleep in the same bed each night and some don’t.  Most marriages are monogamous, but some are open.  Some couples spend most of their time together, while others spend little time together.  Some couples even live in different houses or cities.  None of these differences necessarily make any of these relationships less of a marriage.

In some marriages, one person earns income and is the sole financial provider, and in some marriages, one person takes on most of the child-rearing or household responsibilities.  And in today’s world, either the man or the woman can take on any of these roles.  Why?  Because the boundaries and rules of the past have been redefined.  Or, more accurately, they’ve been undefined, which brings freedom and choice.

Which brings us to divorce.

    Di-vorce (n):  the action or an instance of legally dissolving a marriage

The dictionary definition of divorce is easy to agree with.  It’s the perception and assumptions that I struggle with.  Our society seems to equate divorce with negativity and failure.  While I can understand viewing divorce as the failure of a marriage, I cannot understand viewing the individuals getting divorced as failures themselves.  Why are we so hard on each other and quick to judge? 

With divorce rates so high, are most of us really failures?  No, but many of us take on that role due to guilt and shame.  And most of us expect divorce to be a nasty, horrible process.  It doesn’t have to be though.  Our world is changing.  More and more people are coming together and working toward the common good, and we can do the same in divorce.  It is a sad and difficult transition to go through, yet it can be used to heal and grow in amazing ways.

Which brings us to family.

    Fam-i-ly (n):  1 – a group of individuals living under one roof and usually under one head     2 – a group of persons of common ancestry     3 – a group of people united by certain    convictions or a common affiliation

I think the first definition of family found in the dictionary has become quite outdated, since about half of all marriages end in divorce.  As much as things have changed in our society over the last 50 years, we still tend to think of family as mom, dad and two kids all holding hands and smiling together in front of a lovely house.  This is simply not the norm any more.

I have a brother who lived with my mom and me for most of my childhood.  I have a step-sister who lived with my dad and step-mother, and we spent every other weekend together.  My step-sister has a step-sister who lived with her dad and step-mother and she visited them occasionally.  I have a daughter who lives with me half of the time.  The other half of the time, she lives with her dad and step-mother and two half-siblings.  Her step-mother has a mom and step-father, and two step-siblings who live with her dad.  My daughter has a close friend who has two moms.

I have a friend who has one adopted child and one biological child, and sadly the mother died recently, so now he’s a single father.  There are more and more dads with full custody of their children than ever before.  My aunt raised her two grandchildren when their mother left when they were toddlers.  With so many different combinations and situations, how can we possibly continue to define family as a group of people living under one roof, or as mother, father and children in one house?

The third dictionary definition is more appropriate. But, really, family is however WE define it.  If you’re divorced and you have kids, you can still be a family.  You’re just an expanded family.  And your family can include people who are not blood-relatives.  We are all connected, regardless of what our family trees say.  Those deep connections we share with people, that sense of belonging and knowing we are loved are what make us family.  Creating a child together that we both love can make us family, whether we’re married or not.

Redefine your marriage, your divorce and your family to fit who you are and what you believe in.  By removing other people’s definitions and expectations, you find freedom and possibility…which foster peace and joy…and the world is a happier place for one more child.