Let’s Start a Family…Not!

by Dr. Dathan Paterno

Today is Pet Peeve Day. In case you didn’t know, the second week of June is Pet Peeve Week. I just made it so. 

So one of my biggest pet peeves is when parents say “We’re going to start a family” when referring to their decision to have children. Umm, news flash: if you are married and deciding to have children, you already are a family. This is an important distinction to make. It isn’t just semantics; it has enormous implications for how you will parent and how your marriage will survive parenthood.

A new family is formed when a man and woman marry (I’m not going to get into same-sex marriage here), whether or not the wife takes her husband’s name, vice-versa, or neither spouse changes names. The wedding pronounces the new family’s primary members and officials: Husband and Wife, Mom and Dad, Chief Executive Officer and Chief Operating Officer, President and Vice-President, King and Queen, co-consuls, Czar and Czarina, or whatever other titles make sense to you. The point is that you are family before you have children. 

If you conceive—pun intended—of your family as beginning when your first child arrives, you make the child the primary focus of your family. It is as if your family simply could not exist or survive without that child. This threatens your family’s hierarchy. Instead of a healthier parent-first hierarchy, your family will descend into child-first thinking. Children do not need to be first. They need to know that they have entered an already existing system, with firmly established rules, boundaries, expectations, and relationships. In short, children need to know that their place in the family is of equal value, worth, and love, but that the parents hold the positions of authority.

So instead of saying, “We’re starting a family”, say “We’re ready to expand our family!” or “We’re going to start having children”. Or if you are feeling a bit cheeky, “It’s time we added to our workforce!”

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