ellen_marguliesBy Ellen Margulies

Emma and Maggie are BFFs who go back to high school days. When Maggie had marital troubles during her third trimester and kicked the bum out, Emma quit her high-powered job in China and moved back to the states and into Maggie’s house, where she will help raise the baby.

The girls are tight; they’re a family. And they’re at the center of a great new show on the USA network called “Playing House.” I encourage you to watch it when the next season rolls around because, honestly, it’s just a really funny, well-written, well-acted show. But it also may get you to thinking how far we’ve come in terms of what we define as family.

I was lucky enough to be born into the classic American nuclear family, the third of four kids. We did the usual middle-class American family stuff, and we had the usual middle-class American family problems. We were close when I was little, grew apart as we got older, and grew closer again.

My parents are still married, going on 55 years. We still get together for birthdays and holidays and Sunday dinners. It’s a wonderful thing, since I never had a family of my own. At least not in the traditional sense.

But as much as there is to appreciate about traditional family structures, our definition of “family” over the years has really changed. Think about how many women you know who have formed very nontraditional family structures, like the one on “Playing House” or maybe something entirely different. Think about how many people you know who are raising grandchildren, nieces or nephews. Think about how many families you know who’ve taken in “strays,” those people who could never rely on or simply never had a traditional family of their own to fall back on.

That’s really what family is about, isn’t it? That group of people, related by blood or circumstance, who provide a safety net from life’s bumps and bruises. You can yell at them, be your goofiest or ugliest self with them, crash on their couch when your power is out and mooch meals off of them. You can count on them to understand who you really are because they know where you came from.

And, yes, you can count on them to push your buttons better than anyone else. But forgiveness is part of the deal with family. Whether your family is a hodge-podge of loved ones, your kids, your cousins and aunties or just your plain ol’ crazy siblings and parents, they’re the closest thing you’re going to get in this life to unconditional love. They’re the people you’re going to grow old with, and they’re going to be the ones wiping the drool off your chin without making TOO much fun of you.

As Robert Frost said, home is the place where, when you go there, they have to take you in. The implication being, of course, that home is wherever your family is — no matter what that family structure might look like.