At the time, I thought that these friends would always be connected to me, but our lives went in different directions, our interests changed, and we lost the closeness we once had. When our friends become family, do our children lose a sense of continuity and permanence if those relationships go into decline? Does the chosen aunt cease to be an aunt if the friendship wanes?
Those concerns make me wary of adding chosen relatives. Although it is true that the same cycles of closeness and distance can happen in extended families formed through blood and marriage, the issue of permanence doesn't generally arise. Heterosexual families provide structures and events (family reunions, weddings, oral family history) which serve to give a sense of permanence to the kinship, even if the closeness isn't there. Except for the extreme behavior of parents such as mine, people can generally assume that their extended family will always be in their lives to some extent.
I want to ensure that my children have the same sense of permanence in family that other children take for granted, especially considering the pain of family loss that I myself experienced. Maybe the answer is for all parties to be careful about the relatives they choose, and to look on the choice as one that is lifelong, even though the relationship will not always be the same.
Some of these issues trouble me, but in sum I am happy that we offer our children the rich and varied familial life we have fashioned over the years.
We and the children all benefit from the sharing of pain and joy, from the get-togethers and the reminiscences, from the multiple tellings of family stories that everybody remembers differently. I rejoice that we have been able to provide ourselves and our children with a family of history and of choice, and look forward to the day when our family expands to include our children's chosen few.
This essay was originally published inKids' Talk, the newsletter of Center Kids, the family project of the Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center of New York. Dale Rosenberg lives in New York City with her spouse and three children.