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Family is claimed to be a nucleus of society’s development and its fundamental element. Without family, the human society would lack organization and order. From the early age, children learn the importance of family values from their parents and relatives. Unfortunately, the main mistake made by parents and, actually, the rest of human society, is that they fail to create an image of diversity and cannot enforce a variety of family principles, standards, and norms. In reality, different people have different ideas about family. Apart from the standard definitions of family provided in dictionaries, a person develops his (her) own vision of family structure and relationships, depending on their individual experiences and expectations. In a world as diverse as ours, it is completely wrong to believe that a family is always an officially registered union of a man and a woman made for the purpose of having children. Traditional definitions of family and the modern typology of family arrangements tend to omit the spiritual component. The goal of this paper is to inform the audience about my vision of family and its classification. From everything I have seen and learned in life, I define family as a physical, cultural, and spiritual unity of two or more people, who are related to one another and are treated with intimacy, loyalty, and special care.
The Oxford English Dictionary provides several different definitions of family. The most common is, probably, “the body of persons who live in one house or under one head, including parents, children, servants, etc” (Oxford English Dictionary). In other words, the Oxford English Dictionary limits the notion of family to the relationships that take place under one roof, regardless of their official status, the way they are related to each other, and the quality of their relationships.
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Unfortunately, this vision of a family is severely limited and does not reflect the modern realities. Today, family is more than a blood or marriage relationship. I perceive family as a union that is more spiritual than formal. I believe that, to be regarded as “family”, individuals do not need to be related by blood or be officially married. They only need to have common interests and goals, respect one another, share each other’s beliefs and attitudes, and, more importantly, treat each other with intimacy and care. My vision of a family is reflected in the definition provided by Shaffer and Kipp in their psychology textbook: family is “two or more persons related by birth, marriage, adoption, or choice, who have emotional ties and responsibilities to each other” (65). Put simply, it is not blood or marriage but responsibilities and emotional ties that define family.
Like Shaffer and Kipp, I perceive family as a social world, a complex social system, all part of this are closely interrelated (65). All members of one family influence each other and contribute to the general health of the entire family system. The way each family functions depends on the way its elements interact, and even a slightest problem facing one family member can redily distort the general picture. The age and gender of family members does not matter, as long as they manage to create and sustain the most appropriate balance of interests and emotional ties. A family is where everyone acts in the interests of each member and the family union. Certainly, it is difficult not to agree with the Oxford English Dictionary in that a family is where people are treated with care and intimacy. Still, we need to understand that families come up in a variety of forms.
Speaking about family, most people imagine a male father, a female mother, and two or more children living together under one roof. Although this type of family structure is becoming less common, it is still regarded as the “nucleus family” (Southern Kings Consolidated School). The nucleus family, also called “traditional family”, usually consists of a father, a mother, and a child (either biological or adopted). The nucleus family was the most popular in the 1950s-60s (Southern Kings Consolidated School). Today, traditional families also come in a variety of forms, with either one or both parents working outside the home and with the growing number of women preferring employment and career growth to traditional home obligations. Nonetheless, many individuals, groups, and employers keep defining family in traditional terms.
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In this context, society often speaks about the so-called single parent family, where a single parent (a father or a mother) and one or more children live in the same household. Needless to say, the primary mission of single-parent families is to raise their children (Southern Kings Consolidated School). Only one out of ten single-parent families is headed by men (Southern Kings Consolidated School). Simultaneously, this type of family union is rightly considered as the most rapidly growing and most popular approach to building family relationships. More adults get a divorce or choose not to marry. Teenage mothers represent one of the most vulnerable populations in terms of marriage and family relations. One of the four children living in single-parent families are born to teenage mothers (Southern Kings Consolidated School). Children in single-parent families can be biological, foster, step, or adoptive (U.S. Office of Personnel Management). It is possible to assume that, in the future, the number of single-parent families will further increase.
Today’s family classification also includes extended families and childless families. Extended families represent a broader form of the nucleus family which, beyond parents and children, also has other members and relatives. These generations can live in one household for a variety of reasons. For instance, in many cultures, spending mature life with a large extended family is an important tradition. Others may live together with their parents, grandparents, sisters, brothers, cousins, nephews and nieces because they have no other place to go. An extended family can include one, two, or three generations (Southern Kings Consolidated School). The prevailing majority of extended families comprise two generations. It is not uncommon for the nucleus family to trransform into an extended form under the influence of various social, cultural, and economic factors. However, not all families can afford living with their relatives simply because they have none.
Childless families have become a very common form of family relationships in the modern society. Families either choose not to have children because they do not want any, or they have health problems that do not allow them to become parents. The latter always have a chance to adopt a child and become parents (U.S. Office of Personnel Management). Many such families will eventually come to realize the importance of parenthood and will decide to have children, but many others will switch their attention to charity and pets not to think about their parenthood problems (Southern Kings Consolidated School). All these types of families are important for the current understanding of the major social trends, but these definitions of family do not include the spiritual and cultural element. They consider family from the viewpoint of membership, the number of family members, and their relations to one another, either by blood or by marriage. However, even an extended family can be made up by those, who are not related to each other in any way, except for respect, shared responsibilities, and common interests.
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In my view, family is where members support each other and live in happiness. I do not think that the two people who are married but live an unhappy life can be regarded as family. To me, the concept of family is necessarily associated with the notions of balance and harmony. This is why, in my definition of a family, the number of members and the ways in which they are related to one another are of secondary importance. Shaffer and Kipp suggest that fathers tend to be more actively engaged with their children when they maintain harmonious relations with their spouses (66). Put simply, everything within families is interrelated. Family is a physical unity of its members, but it is also a spiritual and cultural union. Family is all about caring, intimacy, respect, and support. It is a dynamic system that constantly changes but never betrays its most sacred values.
Defining family is not an easy task. Different individuals perceive the meaning of family in entirely different ways. I view family as a physical, cultural, and spiritual union of two or more people, where everyone is treated with care and intimacy, without any regard to their official status in this relationship. In other words, family cannot be defined solely by their presence within a household, as the Oxford English Dictionary puts it. Family cannot also be defined by the presence or absence of certain members. The presence or absence of extended family members, children or parents can play a role, but the most essential is the quality of family relations between its members. Traditional family classifications do not include a spiritual element, but in a world as diverse as ours, the importance of spirituality should not be underscored. It is respect, support, understanding, and intimacy that best define family. Without intimacy and caring, no family will have a chance to survive.
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