Of course in recent years the popular conception of what a nuclear “family” is has shifted from husband plus wife plus 2 kids (one boy, one girl), a dog, and two cats, to something much more inclusive: widowed single parent plus children, out of wedlock child plus parent plus grandparent, same sex couples (with or without kids), kids with divorced parents plus new spouses, and many, many others.
The thing about this shift is that for many, because there are so many different definitions of what a “family” can be, it may make it much more challenging to define what you want your “family” to be.
If somebody says, “This is my family” and is about to show you a photo, what do you expect to see? What is your gut response to what a “family” looks like?
There are people who feel pressured to be in an Ozzy & Harriet white picket fence type relationship – whether overtly from family members or other social groups, or subconsciously, within the confines of their own minds. There are even people who actually still do, in their own heart of hearts, want that “traditional” family. There's nothing wrong with that. For this group of folks, the challenge may be that if life doesn't happen to pan out in line with those hopes and expectations, it can be more devastating personally than for those who have a more fluid version of what their “family” can look like.
If that “traditional” family model is not for you – whether because you just don't want it, aren't wired for it, or because life hasn't panned out that way – how do you know what your version of family should be? What does that word – “family” - mean, to you?
Perhaps one way to start is to forget about whose faces are going to be in a photo you show people of “your family.” For now, take a step back, and think about what “family” means to you in a broader sense. Here is just one example of a list of attributes of a family:
Values: love, respect, nurture, empower, acceptance
Actions: care for physical needs, ailments, share responsibilities, celebrations
Conflict: okay to disagree, forgiveness
Space: live together, spouses/partners sleep together
Why: blood relation, marriage, adoption, shared space
Here is a different example of a list of attributes of a family:
Values: love, stability,
Actions: according to roles based on hierarchy, teach to generation below
Conflict: agreement required
Space: live together, spouses do not sleep together
Why: blood relation, marriage
We challenge you to take a moment to reflect on your own version of family – perhaps what you see in its current iteration, and maybe also what you ideally want that to look like. Just because the definition of “family” has seen some changes, and continues to evolve, that doesn't mean you should take an “anything goes” approach to the concept of family in your own life. In your definition of “family,” what are the important values, the hallmark actions, the stance toward conflict, the sharing of space, the reason for being included as a member of the family, etc.? Write it down. Take a look at it. Does that match your values? How about the values of the other members of your family?
If you'd like to work through your definition with a small group, you are welcome to join one! Just click here for more information.