The word family is one of the most loosely defined terms in the English language; because it means something different to everyone. While one person may define family as the relatives who share their home, another may consider family to include extended relatives residing near and far. Still, someone else views their beloved circle of friends or their pets as family. Families are vastly different, but they all function under one single premise: shared love and commitment.
Definition of Family
The dictionary defines family in several ways. One definition is "a fundamental social group in society typically consisting of one or two parents and their children." While this definition is a good starting point, several modern family structures are excluded by this definition, such as childless couples, friends as family, or many other variations of the family unit. Another definition is "Two or more people who share goals and values, have long-term commitments to one another and commonly reside in the same dwelling." Today there are many definitions of the concept of family, and all are equally wonderful and celebrated.
Who Makes a Family?
The traditional family consists of a father, mother, and children. This is the nuclear family often shown on television as the familial standard. However, the 21st century showcases various family units, some very different from the standard unit of prior decades. Today, children are often raised in single-parent homes, by grandparents, or by LGBTQ+ parents. Some families opt to have no children or cannot have children due to medical or emotional barriers. The idea that parents and children make a family is a basic definition; however, to accurately acknowledge other family structures, a broader definition is necessary. In addition to a universal family definition, plenty of people consider a group of friends to be family, and many consider pets as defining members of the family unit.
Who comprises a family is up to the people in the family themselves. People may opt to keep blood relatives in their lives, or let them go if they are toxic to their well-being. Many folks add caring and supportive people to their extended clan when they choose, deciding who belongs in their specific definition of family.
Single Parent Families
In 2020, 25% of the children residing in the United States were living in single-parent households. Having two committed parents living under the same roof, raising their children was once the norm, but no longer. Single-parent households have tripled since the 1960s, and 19 million children refer to single-parent arrangements as their family. While being a single parent can come along with additional financial and emotional stressors, millions of parents care for their kin every day, independent of a spouse or partner.
For many people, family extends far beyond parents and siblings. Extended family refers to the many relatives connected by a person through DNA. In-laws, grandparents, cousins, aunts, and uncles might be a part of someone's extended family. Many family units, especially in other cultures from around the globe, live with extended family members under the same roof. Extended families can also live far apart, but remain connected through their common history, heritage and tradition, and commitment to each other.
A blended family, or a stepfamily, is formed as a result of a marriage where both married partners have children from previous relationships. When they join their lives together, they create a new family dynamic. Blended families are quite common in modern times, and 40% of wed couples in the United States are step-couples. Living in a blended family comes with its fair share of barriers, like adjustment periods, resentment, confusion, and jealousy, but they are also full of benefits. In blended families, stepchildren can become closely bonded friends, enjoy new traditions that come with new family members, and can include the emotional and financial support of more than one contributing adult.
Friends as Family
Many people consider friends to be as close or even closer than extended (or immediate) family. People who have lost close family members or have become removed from them may create a family unit of friends with similar interests and goals to become replacements or enhancements to a lacking family structure. This type of family unit, while untraditional, can be just as close, if not closer, than a traditional structure. You can't choose your blood relatives, but you can choose your friends! In having the option to decide who to bring into your friends-as-family unit, you have the ability to draw in only positive and supportive beings. In addition, some people who have supportive families also have an extensive network of friends who they consider a second family or as additions to their blood or legal relatives. They have the best of both worlds; and highlight the notion that lives are made richer by the loving and supportive people you surround yourself with.
Pets as Family
Pets can also become crucial members of a family unit. Animals add an element of responsibility to a family, particularly for children, and offer unconditional love and support. For couples who cannot, or choose not to have children, pets can be a replacement and be loved as dearly as children. Pets, such as dogs and cats, are cared for as additional family members by many people, and are deeply mourned when they pass away.
Rather than simply defining family by a dictionary definition, each individual should look to define a family by their own standards. You can have several families in your lifetime, even several families at once if you choose. Regardless of how you define your family unit, whether traditional or unique, your definition is of the family unit that works for you. As the saying goes, "Family is what you make it." Whether made up of blood relatives, friends, pets, or a combination of these, your family can offer you the support you need to thrive.