In our household, once the children were born, I renamed our wedding anniversary the "family birthday". When they were little and whenever my husband and I were lucky enough to have my in-laws look after them, we would head outside to remind ourselves of what it was like just to be a couple for a few hours. As the children have grown older, it has seemed ever sadder to leave them behind. After all, they are a celebration of our married life as much as the two of us and we wanted them to share the day too.
As someone who works in marketing and branding, the solution was obvious: a rebrand of the event. Which means our marriage anniversary is now also the day that our family was born. And the celebration is one of the new unit that we created: a family birthday.
I’ve mentioned this in passing to friends and colleagues who have children and to my unexpected pleasure, they have reacted with delight. It is somehow so obvious yet there is a big gap. It seems unusual in society to celebrate the family. We have so many individual days – and for good reason – mother’s day, father’s day, birthdays – but the family as more than the sum of its parts, and a foundational component of societal structure, seems neglected.
Last month, we celebrated our eighteenth anniversary, making our marriage now a grown up too, and our children were involved in planning the day and being together.
Perhaps not many of us stop to think about how each family has its own ways. Two people start a household and create a whole new culture. And when children arrive, and as they grow up and bring their personalities into the mix, that culture evolves. Think about how when you step into someone’s home, you see their own methods, interactions and structures at play. It is a culture in microcosm. When we don’t acknowledge that different families have their own cultures we can run into challenges.
Often times, parents, in-laws, or even the people who go on to become parents can feel like they need to keep alive the culture that they were taught and grew up in. This is made up of habits, traditions, memories and stories told to us and about us. Some of these traditions are inherited, some develop subconsciously and others we make and institute.
But as times change, society changes and more importantly, if and when people marry and have children, a new culture is born. Those who don't understand this can cause tension, unhappiness and in some cases, the breakdown of a family. Like in-laws who insist that the new bride should be "moulded" or made to fit in with in-law customs. Or if the bride moves into the husband's house, that her opinions don't count. To avoid this, at the beginning of a marriage, there has to be an understanding – perhaps even an excitement – that a new culture is being created.
Not acknowledging this is a denial of the sanctity of the new family emerging, and a blindness to the fact that not only is the new culture a natural thing, it is a good thing. It brings freshness and dynamism to an ever-changing society. It also builds resilience to the social shifts across so many cultures, and an acceptance and respect that there are different kinds of families and that they all have their ways of functioning – whether those are extended families, nuclear, single-parent, blended or any other family unit. There ought to be space for new members and grace granted for new ways of doing things.
Earlier this week was the death anniversary of Diana, formerly the Princess of Wales. She is perhaps a modern symbol of what happens when family cultures don’t evolve, are not flexible and do not accommodate new personalities and new ways.
A similar situation has happened again with Harry and Meghan. A culture needs to change bearing in mind two wider parameters: the members who arrive – through marrying or children being born, but also in the context of societal changes. When either is lacking, people can become unhappy and the family structure can collapse. Just ask the Windsors.
An evolving unit plays an important part in allowing people to understand who they are and giving them a sense of belonging. Being aware that families have different cultures, and in particular that new families will create their own, is not something to be resisted. It should be celebrated.