Families: One size does not fit all!

Today’s family bears only a slight resemblance to those of a generation ago. What makes family in the 21st century?

Family is considered a basic social unit of society, yet each of us defines it differently. Photo credit: Pixabay.
Family is considered a basic social unit of society, yet each of us defines it differently. Photo credit: Pixabay.

Families today look much different than the families of our parents and grandparents era.  If you asked 100 people today about their definition of family you may get a wide variety of answers.  Often, if asking the question, you will end up getting more questions. Are you talking about just married couples?  Do you only mean people who are related?  Should I consider step or half siblings, children or grandchildren in my definition? 

According to Michigan State University Extension, family is considered a basic social unit of society, yet each of us defines it differently.  Some people think of a family as including children, parents, siblings, aunts, uncles and grandparents.  This is often referred to as the family we are born; our family of origin.  Others think of a family as including girlfriends, boyfriends, wives, husband, friends and neighbors.  They might even include people in their place of worship a part of their family.  This definition of family refers to a family that we make for ourselves, an intentional family.

The Merriam-Webster online dictionary gives the following definitions.  A family is:

  • a group of individuals living under one roof and usually under one head
  • a group of persons of common ancestry
  • a people or group of peoples regarded as deriving from a common stock
  • a group of people united by certain convictions or a common affiliation

No matter the definition, the composition and shape of today’s family has changed through the decades. According to a Pew Research study about 52 percent of all adults in America were married in 2008, a decrease from 72 percent in 1960.  The study reported that even with the decline, 76 percent of survey respondents say that their family is the “most important element in their life,” and 75 percent say that they are “very satisfied” with their family life. 

All families regardless of their makeup experience weakness and challenges.  MSU Extension recognizes six characteristics that strong families have in common:

  1. Open communication and good listening- showing understanding and positive verbal and non-verbal reinforcement.  Time spent talking can be about big or little issues.
  2. Commitment to each other - the expectation that the family will stick together through good and bad, make relationships a high priority and work together to solve problems.
  3. Family wellness- a healthy lifestyle that includes good nutrition, exercise, rest and relaxation.  This often includes spiritual wellness and shared beliefs that create a bond.
  4. Appreciation and caring -  showing respect and affection for the unique qualities of each family member.
  5. Time - spending meaningful time on a regular basis.  Sharing family time helps family members feel connected.
  6. Stress Strategies and an ability to cope - Ways to cope with stress that include a strong support network, setting priorities and flexibility.

No matter how you define family or who you choose to include, we all share one thing:  Family includes people we love, people who love us and people to whom we are connected through a shared history and varied experiences. Mother Theresa said it this way, “What can you do to promote world peace? Go home and love your family.”

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