If Only I Could Bear Puppies: On the Freedom to Define a Family

by Wendra Chambers
Wendra Chambers

It should go without saying: Today, the definition of “family” covers a wide range of choices. And yet, despite decades of social progress and living in the metropolitan and progressive area of Alexandria, Virginia, my choices seem to be limited — as a human female, other women expect me to define “family” as having human children. Admittedly, it probably doesn’t help that I’m married to a hot Army guy because hey, who wouldn’t want to breed that?

But in my case, my dogs, Lucius Vorenus and Titus Pullo, are my family.

I don’t expect other women to have dogs as their definition of family (though if it is, friend me on Facebook). However, years of experience have taught me that I’m not often granted that same flexibility. To give you a sense of what I mean, let’s imagine what life would be like if I expected other women to make the same family choice I made.

Peek into my fantasy world in which I’m talking to a girlfriend who is considering not having dogs in her life. I start off easy:

“Listen. You just think you don’t want dogs. Just wait until you have your own. Then you’ll understand.”

“Raising dogs is completely natural. Once you have them all those instincts will kick in. Really, women were born to raise dogs.”

“The point of having dogs is so someone will love you when you’re old and alone. You don’t want to die dogless, do you?”

Then, if appealing to self-interest doesn’t work, I’ll kick it up a notch:

“Just one more picture. See? This is what you’re missing. See how she almost catches the squirrel this time?”

“Don’t be so selfish. You at least owe it to your parents to have dogs. What will they tell their friends if you don’t have dogs?”

“Do you have anything other than dogs to look forward to at your age?”

And finally, if this friend marries, I can add:

“If you didn’t want to have dogs, why did you get married in the first place?”

Now, rest assured, I’m looking forward to being an aunt to all of my human-bearing friends. In fact, to ensure this letter would not be offensive to human mothers, a very pregnant friend of mine read this essay and she laughed so hard she had a contraction. Twenty-four hours later she was in the delivery room. Coincidence?

I do hope these conversational excerpts from my fantasy world give moms and moms-to-be a sense of how strange and judgmental the experience can be for those of us who make non-traditional family choices. And while I’m on the subject, here are a range of family choices that can be combined in a variety of creative ways:

  1. Marriage: not at all, at any age, to either sex (AT. LONG. LAST.).
  2. Children: not at all, at any age, by various means (adoption, in vitro), of various natures (Dogs! Cats! Birds! Oh my!).
  3. Community: limited by neither colocation nor imagination, human or otherwise.

In the end, the broader the concept of family, the more of us can have one. After all, the feminist movement was about choice as much as equality. Am I right?

And I choose dogs as my family — in addition to that guy I married. Dogs love you when you feel like a loser and haven’t showered for days (actually Lucius prefers me un-showered). They are happy every day, no matter what dumpster fire is happening in the White House. They are content just to be near you, whether you’re reading, watching TV, or hiding in the closet to avoid those annoying neighbors. Bottom line, dogs are always there for you, even if you come home late reeking of nuzzles from another dog.

So, don’t let others impose their definition of family on you. It’s your choice.

But when you think about making a family, I hope you might consider doggy style.

Culture

Let’s stay in touch!

Get a little Syn in your inbox!