Within our own home, our own family, there are ten of us. Steve and I do argue sometimes, and when we do they are usually big ding-dongs, but on the whole we get on like a house on fire and absolutely adore one another. Perhaps because of the hostility we have received in the past six years, we are more determined than ever to make our marriage work. Then there are our three beautiful daughters and their five furry brothers and sisters.
Yep, we all talk about them as brothers and sisters. Each of our cats has their own special little personality, with their own foibles and quirks. The boys will come running the second someone is upset, the main comforters, and are always the best babysitters with our newborns. Taya has a quietly reassuring presence and keeps everyone company at night; Poppy is a slightly neurotic ball of crazy, and Jess is the perfect girls' cat, happy to be dressed up, carried in dolly slings, and pushed around in pushchairs. They are our family.
For me, this amazing family we have created is nothing short of a miracle. First of all I am adopted, so meeting Lara for the first time was my first experience of a blood relative, and having someone who looks so like me is a source of endless fascination. And when I met Steve at the age of 36 to say my biological clock was ticking is an understatement (boom boom boom), yet we had to face the fact that I might be too old, or unable, to conceive. The irony of modern woman - you spend years avoiding pregnancy, but don't know if you are actually fertile until you try. Thankfully, with all three of our pregnancies, as soon as we looked at dates and 'tried' at the right time, we got pregnant first time. Let's hope that works for baby number four too!
So we have our own mini-blended family of sorts, me with Yuri and Taya, then Steve, then Misha, Lara, Sophia, Poppy & Jess, and Tatiana. Beyond us there is a small collection of honorary aunts, uncles and cousins, more supportive and involved with our family than those who should bear the title. These are the people our girls talk about and want to see, the ones who play with them and care about them, who want to spend time with them, and enjoy their company.
When Matalan first opened their doors 30 years ago, the world was a very different place. Being gay was still a huge issue, and a taboo subject (Michael Cashman's character appeared in Albert Square the following year); blended families were highly unusual; and 2 parents + 2.4 kids was still a thing. Although growing up in the '70s and '80s with a nasty, abusive father whom my mum thought it better to stay with than to leave, I do wonder why the myth that two parents is always better than one persisted for so long.
What does family mean to us? It means people who love, value and respect one another. Blood doesn't matter, it's who is there when you need them, who cares, who helps, who turns up. In our case that's a wife, a husband, 3 daughters, 5 loving cats, 3 grandparents, a great aunt, and some very special friends, honoured with Godparent status so they know they matter (we hope!). Around us we see families of all shapes and sizes, but what's important isn't age, gender, or parental status, it's love.
Matalan have recently conducted research into modern families and found that the definition of family in the 21st century is far from straightforward. There are still Nuclear families of course, even when they are like us with more than the average of 1.7 children, but there are also plenty of blended families, older parents in-waiting, single parent families, LGBT families, and those, like us, who include 'beyond kin' individuals, like friends and pets. You can read the full research report here.
In a bid to celebrate family life today, here are some of Matalan's new modern families:
What does family mean to you? You can share your favourite family photo here.
Here's what some of the participants think about modern family:
This post is on behalf of Matalan and Mumsnet.
You can read more about modern families on the Matalan Modern Families linky hosted by Mumsnet.