Letter From The Editor: All In The Family

I'm us. And I'm me, too.

Letter From The Editor, Family | A Practical Wedding

This weekend, listening to NPR, I heard someone say that he doesn’t really think of himself in the singular anymore, but he thinks of himself as existing within his family unit. He went on to explain that much of his self-identity currently includes his partner and his kids. I nodded in agreement, and then startled. How was it possible that I knew exactly what he meant?

So much of our cultural language around marriage and motherhood is cloaked in the language of warnings. Our narrative around creating a new family has a lot to do with the idea of “losing yourself.” Marriage will make you miserable, as your personal happiness is subsumed by your partner’s needs. Motherhood is something you lose yourself in, as your career, fashion, and basic health needs are deemed less worthy than the needs of your small offspring. And while I was not terrifically scared of marriage, I went into motherhood on the defensive. I was going to watch out! I was going to always remember date night, and make sure I stayed number one, and didn’t end up in sweats all the time.

But it turned out I was defending myself against a paper tiger. For me, the joy of motherhood has been the ability to let go of that rigid sense of self, and that in so doing, a richer sense of self has been born.

I mean, just to clarify, my fashion is better than it used to be, because happy people should definitely wear purple pleather mini-skirts, amiright? And there are profound ways where my identity as a person and my identity as a mother simply don’t intersect. After a lot of careful thought, I’ve realized that I don’t work to support my family, or to model a feeling of personal success to my kid. (Well, I mean, I do those things too. God bless paying the rent.) But primarily, I work because I love it. And while I hope that me pursing my professional life teaches my children something about being fulfilled individuals, I’m doing it because I need to do it, pure and simple.

But I don’t want to go on date nights all the time; I want to hang out with my family. I no longer think of myself as just me: I think of myself as myself, and my kid, and my husband. It’s not that I think of myself relationally: as a mother and a wife. It’s that I think of myself collectively: I am me, and I’m also part of them.

On APW, we talk a lot about the idea of “the baby family.” When I first got married, I realized with startling clarity that I hadn’t just said vows and had a party; I’d created a brand-new family. It was a new family, a baby family, and it needed protecting and tending to. In the earliest years of marriage, we spent a lot of time nurturing that new entity. We created rituals. We said no to people. We set boundaries. We had uncomfortable conversations. We negotiated and renegotiated what being a family meant. Slowly, the roots of that family took hold, and one day it went from slowly growing to thriving.

I remember last year, after having my baby, a delightfully well-meaning commenter wished the best of luck to my baby family. And I realized we were nothing like a baby family anymore. It wasn’t just because we had a baby. It was just that time had passed, and all of that nurturing had paid off.

These days, when I think of my family, I think of my husband and my baby. I think of them when I think about who I am. It turns out I’m not number one, or number two, or number three, or number I-forgot-to-put-myself-on-my-own-list. I’m us. And I’m me, too. And it’s magical.


This month, as we approach the holidays, we’re going to talk about how family identities shift. We’re going to talk about becoming our own families, and being part of bigger families. We’ll talk about creating intentional families, and claiming the strengths of our families of origin. We’re going to talk about joys and sorrows, and totally flat-out crazy bits. Because y’all, it’s family month. For better and for worse.


Photo: Personal for APW

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  • MEM

    I’m so excited for this month’s topic. A few months ago, my fiance and I had the “why aren’t we just eloping?” talk and I said “well, my immediate family would be really upset.” his response: “I’m your immediate family now.” That was the moment I really understood what we are doing by getting married and it just made me even happier about the whole thing. I love the idea that we are just a little baby family that needs to grow up a bit :)

  • I am eager to read this month’s topic. Family is so huge with me, the good, the bad, the “I can’t believe that this happened/is happening;” all of it. The idea of a marriage in the early years as a baby that needs nurturing is so huge and something I needed to read today. I’ve been with my husband for nearly seven-and-a-half years. But we’ve only been married just shy of six months. Our first six months of marriage have been fun, fast, and challenging. Fun because we’ve done things travel-wise this year that we never thought we would get to do. Fast because, well, holy crap, was Memorial Day weekend really almost six moths ago? and challenging because of a combination of things, including loss and more business travel than I ever thought would happen. There has been more than one weekend since our weddign where I wanted nothing more than to stay home and spend time with my husband away from all things outside of our marriage, and those weekends? Instrumental to my sanity and that of our marriage.

    • Heather

      This is us, and me, EXACTLY. Memorial Day, crazy traveling, seven and a half years, all of it.

      And those weekends where we have nothing but us to focus on? Totally instrumental.

      I, too, am really looking forward to all things this month.

  • js

    For the first time this year, my husband’s family is coming to us for a holiday instead of us always going to them. This is personal. This is a multiple-tequila-shots kind of victory that is seven years in the making. It burns my ass that it took us finally being married to be treated the same as everyone else, despite the fact that we were a family long before we were married. Still, all that matters is my husband, daughter and I know that and to hell with everyone else. I am going to put on the most kick ass Thanksgiving anyone has ever seen and I’m doing it all for us.

    • Jacky

      Re: “we were a family long before we were married”– I know it might be a bit off-topic for a website about weddings and marriage, but I would be interested in hearing stories from partners who are not married for whatever reason and consider themselves a family. Do friends, relatives, and coworkers consider them a family? Or, as JS describes, do people not consider them a family just because they’re not married?

      I’ve wondered about this question of “what makes a family?” since two years ago at my then-boyfriend’s family holiday celebration. It was the first year that his grandmother asked me to be part of their annual Christmas family photo. Another of her grandkids’ girlfriends was left out, as I had been in previous years, because they were “just dating.” My then-boyfriend and I weren’t even engaged at the time (though we are now). So what made his grandmother suddenly decide that I was worthy of being in the family photo? If not an engagement or marriage, what made me part of her family? Was it the number of years we were dating? The number of family functions I attended? The fact that her GREAT-grandkids started affectionately calling me “Aunt Jacky” even without being an “official” aunt? I still have no idea.

  • Aly Windsor

    “For me, the joy of motherhood has been the ability to let go of that rigid sense of self, and that in so doing, a richer sense of self has been born.”

    LOVE this. So true.

  • 39bride

    This is so encouraging. As someone preparing to bring two preteens (nieces) into our 14-month-old family on a permanent basis, I’m feeling those same worries about becoming a mother, but with only about six weeks’ warning instead of 9+ months. I think we did an excellent job of nurturing our baby family and we’re just beginning to feel that oneness, but I am struggling and worrying about how suddenly being responsible for this children will change us and our relationship.

    I can’t wait to see this month’s articles!

    • Claire

      Oh, wow! Solidarity high fives to you for bringing your nieces into your family!

      Just a few months before our wedding, my partner and I took in my two young nieces. Before they got here, I really worried about how it would work out and all the potential challenges it could bring. I can honestly say the challenges and rewards of expanding our family that way did so much to strengthen our relationship as a couple and cement the partnership we had already started to build. Adding in that brand new responsibility for two new people definitely changed some of the dynamics in our household (how could it not?), but in a really positive way. It reinforced that we are in this together, no matter what life throws at us. It had a way of unifying us, after all we had to present a united front to the girls and the other people involved in the situation.

      The full-time living situation ended up lasting just about a year. It was an adventure in the best possible way. We both feel lucky that we’ve been able to maintain a strong relationship with the girls and establish some stability (we have them about 6 months out of the year now).

      Anyway, cheers for you being willing to grow your family this way! Best of luck on this new adventure.

      • just wanted to say as a fellow aunt that i think what you did is amazing. I know it must be really great to have special girls growing up in your home. you’re certainly showing them lots of love and what family means.

  • ruthtr

    Thank you so much for this – reading this made me feel slightly less terrified about being a parent someday!

  • I’ve long believed that two people make a family. We didn’t become a family when our baby was born, we welcomed her into the family we already made.

    I like the thought that marriage and motherhood expand our sense of self. In a way it allows me to be multiple places at once. There’s the part of me sitting on the couch reading blogs. There’s the part of my heart at work with my husband. There’s the part of my heart on the floor figuring out what toes are. Family is expansive, not restrictive.

    • lady brett

      “Family is expansive, not restrictive.”

      this, exactly. if there is anything i’ve learned from fostering, it is that.

    • Amanda

      Agreed. I’ve always insisted that our baby didn’t *make* us a family, but that our baby *joined* our family.

    • Sarah E

      I like that definition. It reminds me of a similar principle- love is multiplicative. Everytime we add a new person to our hearts, we don’t divide our love further, we multiply it.

    • KEA1

      Ironically, I think you just nailed why I don’t want kids of my own, but still want to build a marriage: my family experiences have been restrictive.

      *mind blown*

      • Jess

        THIS. One exactly was not enough.

        Also, oh my gosh, the fear of building a marriage with someone whose family is very close and involved when I don’t understand how that kind of family works to begin with. Even more of a outsider than I already felt – my responses are programmed all wrong.

        For the first time in my life, I have been wishing lately that I had a family that felt like a *family* the way so many people here do. It would have made everything easier.

      • Angry Feminist Bitch

        Ditto to the nth!

  • Kerry

    “It’s not that I think of myself relationally: as a mother and a wife. It’s that I think of myself collectively: I am me, and I’m also part of them.”

    Love it.

  • Rachael

    I’m hoping to see some articles that talk about 5, 10, 15, 20 years into a family. With a lot of soon-to-be and (relatively) newly married people on this site, I think some insight into the longer term dynamics, rewards, and challenges would be really interesting. The few articles I’ve come across here at APW that address these things have been very informative.

    I, and I’m guessing this applies to a lot of people here, see first hand with my friends the joys and struggles of the first several years of marriage and bringing children into families. But I’m also starting to see, through friends, that 8 years into marriage there are still communication and division of labor issues that need to be addressed and re-addressed, that it’s an on-going process of growing together that requires constant maintenance. It’s easy to say that that’s an obvious statement being newly married, but I am seeing friends who would have said the same thing when they were first married now go through some really unexpectedly painful times in their relationship.

    I’m hoping too that someone talks about the challenges of having children – not just cute little babies and toddlers who love you to death and never talk back, but maybe some ten year olds and teenagers, as well as having multiple children. I imagine it presents a whole new set of challenges in a marriage that I just don’t have much insight into.

    • Meg

      We’ll work on it, and also, send us people (your moms?) who want to tell stories. Also, David and I celebrate nine years together this month, so you can class my stories in the 10ish year camp, if that helps. And yeah, the struggles are never over. Family is dynamic.

    • Maddie

      I asked my mom to send something in for you. :)

  • Maddie

    This letter reminded me of this question from East Side Bride. I couldn’t put my finger on the answer at the time, but I’m pretty sure this is it.


  • Christy A.

    Oh, Meg, how I’ve missed you.

    After following your blog from almost the beginning, I took a break for about the last year. I’ve been married seven and a half years now, and both of my sisters got married in the last year. I’ve always gotten so much from this website, and ate up every “Reclaiming Wife” post that came up, (even had one published myself) but something made me stop coming here. I never unsubscribed, but clicked trash instead of open when APW popped into my inbox. Maybe with all the craziness of my sisters’ weddings I was just burned out on weddings altogether. But today I felt the APW name calling me from my inbox, asking me if we couldn’t be friends again? And like any good old friend, it’s like all the time apart made no difference and we picked up right where we left off.

    A month and a half ago my husband and I found out we are expecting our first baby. We’re beyond excited. But like any good post-third wave feminist, this brought up a zillion questions and fears for me, not the least of which is “will I lose all sense of myself when I have this child?” This is especially prevalent because, due to some financial and career decisions we made before we knew I was pregnant, I’m having to seriously consider not going back to work after I have the baby, which frankly scares the crap out of me. It’s one thing I swore I’d never do. So, like always, your Letter From the Editor spoke to me right where I am, and got to the heart of what I’m experiencing right now. I don’t know how you do it, but you always do.

    I’m excited to see how this series goes, and I’m happy I clicked “open” today. Thanks, always thanks, for this incredible site.

    It’s good to see you, old friend.

    • catherine

      APW can pop up in your inbox???

  • Jen

    I so appreciate reading posts like these that show the reasonable, doable version of being a family of your own, with a new little person in it. Having recently married and now being in that “thinking about having kids” place, I find myself defensive in advance about “losing myself” if we have a child, and it’s really good to read more sane narratives than the ones I so often see and hear in media. Thank you so much for sharing this; it’s this kind of insight that makes me love APW – and keep coming back long after my own wedding!

  • Bryna

    “I went into motherhood on the defensive. I was going to watch out! I was going to always remember date night, and make sure I stayed number one, and didn’t end up in sweats all the time.”

    One of the best things that I’ve discovered through motherhood is that I’m actually WAY better now at looking after myself. Spending time with family is kinda like a date – it’s about finding enjoyable things to do, getting dressed up for Halloween and parties, and creating awesome things together.

    …. I actually get dressed up for my kids and family, and totally wear sweats when it’s me time!

  • Angry Feminist Bitch

    Two initial thoughts on this lovely, epiphany-packed little post and this month’s theme in general:

    1. I think “date night” as a Thing is overrated. I have often, snarkily, remarked, “If you need a ‘date night,’ the jig is already up.” And though that’s a bit hyperbolic, I do kind of feel that way. So I suppose my only comment here is, really, that I resent that the concept of “date night” has become so hum-drum, accepted, unquestioned. Then again, I really hate the BS of dating, ritualized courtship in general, and the ubiquity and tyranny of rom-com-style date itineraries in our culture. Or maybe it’s just because I’m cheap. :) Anyway, I think “date night” deserves more than inevitability. I find it sad in its constructed artificiality. It’s like… a simalcrum of romance. I understand that the practice of taking “couple time” aside, especially for parents, is valuable but I just don’t like the cheesiness, I guess.

    2. KEA1’s comment, above, also blew my mind. I’ve viewed marriage, reproduction, and “family” as, well, scams, due to my own experiences (and those of my partner, which mirror mine – our parents and stepparents have nine marriages between them). I’ve spent a lot of time defending the idea that traditional ideas of family are restrictive, and about isolating people in authoritarian structures that the larger economic system makes it hard for them to escape (see: Engels, Goldman, other 19th C Marxist critics of ye olde patriarchal model). On the other hand, I’m very encouraged by current social and legal trends that expand our understanding of both coupledom (or, indeed, polydom) and family. And Meg’s discussion of seeing herself as relational rather than *only* individual is very important. I think it’s a real fault of our Western, individualistic culture that we generally *do* see ourselves this way, and the result is lack of solidarity, lack of community caregiving, the recent ascendance of Objectivist-inspired political policies, weak family and community bonds generally, ecosystem degradation, and mass alienation. Meg has hit upon something very, very important here.

    This site, especially the Reclaiming Wife subseries, has been providing a space for smart, important, open discussions on this topic for some time, and that’s why I keep coming back. Thanks for allowing my 99% snarky comments, folks.