In 1993 the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed May 15 as the International Day of Families in order to “promote awareness of issues relating to families and to increase knowledge of the social, economic, and demographic processes affecting families.”
The United Nations doesn’t define families, nor label them “traditional” or “unconventional” as the religious right does to pass moral judgement on people’s lives. Families, like the people within them, come in many forms and are all worthy of support. From the blood relatives who keep farms running or royal families in power, to the adoptive relatives—both legal and metaphorical—who ensure we are housed and fed.
Birth parents aren’t the only ones able to provide safe and caring environments for their children. Often extended family is needed, especially if money is tight and jobs and/or health concerns are demanding. Close friends provide additional perspectives on the world and more opportunities for us to develop. Throughout our lives, it’s important to be aware of and reassured by the fact that there are many people who care about us. As humanists, we would add that it’s important for us to recognize our responsibility in caring for other people.
Society must concede that not everyone needs to be a parent. The assumption that all women must be mothers is archaic. Women have a right to decide for themselves whether or not to have children and not be punished by government for that decision. The fact that we’re still debating this, and that Roe vs. Wade is in real danger instead of being strengthened, is a disgrace to our democracy. Even pro-choice people often make condescending comments towards women who choose not to have children. You can be curious of a woman’s decision and discuss how you can or can’t relate, but it’s disrespectful to try to change her mind on such a big life decision that will affect her more than you. Remember that whether or not a woman births or adopts children of her own, she can still have an influential role as a caregiver and mentor.
The expectation that all birth parents are able and want to care for children is dangerous. One of the most quotable parts in the 1989 movie Parenthood is when Keanu Reeves’s character tells his girlfriend’s mother—played by Dianne Wiest—that you need a license to buy a dog, drive a car, or catch a fish, but anyone can be a father. The truth is that men have just as much responsibility in preventing unwanted pregnancies as their female partners.
The claim that all children must be raised by a married mother and father—part of the so-called traditional family—is a harmful lie promoted by the religious right to attack LGBTQ rights. Presumably, a married couple living together would provide a stable and caring home for children due to the assured commitment of both partners. But it’s not legal or religious marriage that determines the strength of a couple and it’s not gender that determines their ability to parent. Still, this untrue claim is used time and again to prohibit the LGBTQ community from adopting children in need of the care they offer.
It’s noteworthy that International Day of Families occurs in May, which is National Foster Care Month. This year’s theme, “Foster Care as a Support to Families, Not a Substitute for Parents,” highlights the important job foster parents have in helping children and youth reunify with their families in safe, stable, and permanent homes. This is especially interesting since May 2019 also marks one year since families were separated at the Mexican border.
It’s also exciting to know that the 2019 theme for International Day of Families is “Families and Climate Action: Focus on SDG13,” referring to the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal 13: Climate Action. This perfectly aligns with the American Humanist Association’s new climate change initiative: HERE for Climate. Humanist Environmental Response Effort (HERE) for Climate connects humanists with actionable ways to combat climate change. Our chapters and affiliates—our humanist family—are helping us make a bigger impact locally and nationally to ensure that all our families can enjoy a healthier Earth for generations to come.
There are the families we’re born into and the families we form, sometimes referred to as intentional families. For International Day of Families, we invite you to celebrate whichever families bring you joy and love.