Has the Time Come to Re-Think Our Definition of Family?
Family is a term that's used often, but to me, can mean very different things to many people. The definition of family is changing, like it or not. Now, that doesn't mean you have to re-write the dictionary definition or change what it means to you, personally. But to many, a family is no longer just a traditional nuclear family - a mom, a dad, a sister and a brother.
What if I consider my best friend a brother? Isn't that like being a family?
Can very close friends be considered part of my family?
I spend more time with my co-workers. Can they be considered part of my family?
What makes a family, a family?
These are some of the questions I've asked myself over the past years as my family has evolved and changed from a more traditional (although, dysfunctional) "nuclear" family into something a bit different.
First, let's define the traditional family.
Just like in my definition of dad post, I first turn to Google for a definition of a family.
Google first defines a family as parents and children living together in the same household. It appears to take somewhat of a nuclear family definition, but it leaves the definition open, just a bit. A family could mean married or unmarried parents, for example. It doesn't speak to the parents' marital status (nor should it, in my opinion).
Google also describes a family as being based on genetic lineage. If we share genes, then we're part of the same family. These definitions are definitely better than the definition of a dad they provide, but I still think they're a bit outdated and there's room to improve them.
any collection of individuals that have come together through circumstance and formed a personal, unbreaking connection
"residents of the block hosted a neighborhood family Thanksgiving dinner"
Aren't there many different types of families?
The term "family" used to be a singular definition consisting of a man, a woman and "x" number of children they shared.
This definition just doesn't fit any more. I'm close to many of my friends and neighbors than I am to my actual family. Doesn't that make them family, too? I think we need more than one way to define what it is to be a family now.
A Neighborhood Family
A family, to me, is so much more than just parents and their children. For some of us, it has to be, because our families either can't or won't participate in our lives like a "normal" family would.
I consider my neighbors to be considered part of my family. I spend every holiday with them like I would do with my normal family. We have Thanksgiving together, we celebrated Christmas as a neighborhood family, and my neighbors come to my sons' birthdays, just like a family would.
My neighbors are a part of my family.
Close Friends Can Feel Like Part of the Family
My wife has some very good friends that recently came to stay with us for about a week. They're a traditional family - a mom and dad, older brother, older sister and a pair of boy/girl twins.
They're a family in ever sense of the word. But they're also part of our family.
The visit us every year and my wife and boys visit them in Ohio for a good portion of the summer. My wife has been around for years and has helped raise the youngest 3 children, first as a baby sitter, but then more as an "aunt Jen".
We're not related to this family, but they are our family, too.
The same goes for my best friend, John. He's like a brother to me, but we don't share any genes. He's just as much of a sibling to me as a "real" sibling would be. We went to college together. We worked together at the same company for a while. I stood up for his wedding. We've vacationed together (like on this road trip).
My best friend John is a part of my family.
Step-Parents - Definitely Part of My Definition of Family
Even my own immediate family isn't a traditional family. My wife plays the role of a step-mom to my teenage son. She didn't give birth to him, but she plays a huge role in his life. They met when he was 7 years old. My son remembers a time before her and he knows she's not his mom, but he considers her a motherly figure nonetheless.
Non-Traditional Families are Still Families
One of my best friends from high school lives in Ohio. She's super smart, super accomplished and an overall awesome person. She also happens to be gay. Together, she and her fiancé raise the fiancé's three children from a previous marriage together.
They're not a pair of biological parents. They do live under the same roof.
They are a family just as much as my wife and our two boys are a family.
Work Environments Can Feel Like a Family
Lastly, I have a work family. I see them 8 or more hours, 5 days per week. I eat with them regularly. We celebrate wins together and we work through difficulties almost every day.
I'm not related to any of my co-workers, but I still consider them a family. We may eventually move on to other jobs at other companies, but I know many of us will continue to stay in touch even as the years pass.
For me, my co-workers form my daytime family.
Definitions, it seem, are required to take on this black or white perspective. You either are or you aren't something that's being defined. That doesn't always work in the real world, though. The real world often can't be defined, because what you think and what you feel may be different than what I think and feel.
And that's okay.
It's okay to think and feel differently. It's okay to disagree. You may disagree with how I define what it means to be a family. That doesn't make you wrong and it doesn't make me wrong. It just makes us different, and differences help to make us all better.
What do you think of my new definition of family? Whether you agree or disagree, I'd love to hear your perspective in the comments below.