How Do You Define ‘Family’?

How Do You Define ‘Family’?

Is your definition of a “normal family” two married parents and their biological children living together under one roof? If not, what do you think a “family” is — or can be? Who is your family?

What do you think holds a family together? Is it biological relationships? Love and support? Sharing the same home?

In “What’s a ‘Normal’ Family, Anyway?” Claire Haug writes:

It’s a typical Thursday night and my family is gathered in the kitchen of my childhood home. There’s me, freshly returned from college, helping my mom set the table; my half brother, also home on break, debating our father about politics; and my half siblings’ mother chiding my half sister for Snapchatting with her high school friends.

If it took you a minute to process the relationships I just described, don’t worry — you are far from the only one. I’ll give my best simplified description of our family: my mother, my half siblings’ mother and our father were friends living in the Bay Area in the ’90s. At the time, both women were in their 30s and wanted to have children — but neither had a long-term partner. My father, a gay man and also partnerless, agreed to be their donor and, if things worked out, involved in their children’s lives.

My brother was born in March 1997, followed by me in October of the same year, and my half sister came along three years later. As a child I got strange looks when I told people that my brother was seven months older than me. But I just thought of us as a family that happened to live in three separate households.

Even growing up in Berkeley, Calif., which is generally known for being culturally diverse and politically progressive, my family structure has struck people as unconventional. I’ve had trouble explaining it to just about everyone, including friends I’ve known for years and financial aid administrators. It seems hard for people to get that you can have a family with parents who were never married, and that some women might choose to conceive and raise a child without a husband.

But unconventional families like mine are becoming increasingly common: the number of two-parent households has been in steady decline since the 1960s, dropping from 87 percent of households in 1960 to 69 percent in 2014, according to the Pew Research Center. The report notes that “the declining share of children living in what is often deemed a ‘traditional’ family has been largely supplanted by the rising shares of children living with single or cohabiting parents.”

She continues:

Family should be, above all else, about love — I hope we can all agree on that. Perhaps it’s time for us to prioritize finding love through community and friendships in the same way many of us prioritize finding romantic love. Maybe one day that will be conventional.

Students, read the entire article, then tell us:

— What does “family” mean to you? Do you count only those bound to you by blood or legal ties, or do friends or other kinds of communities also fill some of the traditional role of family for you?

— Who is your family, however you define that word? What role does your family play in your life in general?

— Ms. Haug writes:

But can anyone really say their experience of family was perfect? My parents have shown me that friendships can be just as important as romantic relationships, and that it’s possible to live a fulfilling life without defining your life by a single long-term relationship. How could that be bad?

Do you agree? Do you think friendships can be just as important as romantic relationships? Should having a single long-term relationship be the universal goal for living a fulfilling life?

— Does society need a more expansive definition of “family,” in your opinion? Why or why not?

Students 13 and older are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public.