If you ask someone what their definition of family is, you may receive a different answer than what you were expecting or what you believe to be a family. You might not have even thought about how you would define the word “family” before reading this. Is a family composed of only blood relatives? Are family members anyone who supports, cares for, and loves one another? You might describe a family as a mother, a father and their children, or a single parent and their child.
We each come from different backgrounds and thus might have dissimilar perceptions on what does and does not constitute a family. Even so, if we open our minds about what a family includes, better connection and decreased stigmatization are possible.
We should start by addressing and noticing the many different types of families. There are single parent, extended, step, foster, nuclear, grandparent, same-sex couple families and more. Additionally, family structures may change over time. Such diverse family forms are becoming more common and recognized. Yet, judging other family systems against the nuclear family is still common.
Regardless of family type, each has different hardships, needs, values, and strengths, a lot of which we most likely cannot see from the outside. Thus, arriving at conclusions about another’s family from incomplete information can be harmful. Assumptions and judgments can feel heavy and may leave adults and children confused or feeling down about the family form they are a part of.
Helping children feel proud about their family and their family’s uniqueness and guiding them in learning to acknowledge and respect people who come from dissimilar backgrounds as their own is essential. Having an open mind and having open conversations about family systems is a way to start this. By doing so, we can begin to lessen the stigmas around diverse family forms and create more acceptance.
On a personal note, I am a single mother and have had to navigate judgments, stigmas, and critical questions because of such. There have been times that both adults and children have assumed that my daughter has a father when in reality, she does not. My daughter seems to handle these situations well but I do not know how it will affect her in the future.
It leads me to wonder how children in similar non-nuclear situations or other familial structures handle speculations and assumptions about their families. It seems the teaching of nuclear families as the norm and the “good” is continuing to a great extent with not enough emphasis on the fact that many of us are a part of other family forms.
To wrap this all up, various types of families exist and are many. We should not view family forms that are different from our own as inferior as there are dangers in believing that family structure equates to the quality of a family. Connecting with other types of families, avoiding assumptions, listening and trying to maintain an open mind about family structures is the best route to take. Many similarities and an increased understanding of the ever-changing nature of family could come from this. Additionally, we each might broaden our definition of what a family is in the process.
By Amy Miller, amazing Fall 2021 Intern! Amy is finishing up her Community Health degree, the Gerontology Certificate as well as the Nursing prerequisites. After graduating from Community Health, Amy will enter into the Accelerated Nursing Program. She loves to spend her free time with family and friends, especially partaking in outdoor activities.