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March 31st, 2005

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01:17 pm - What is your definition of "family"?
This is something I wonder about quite a bit, possibly because I'm single but really enjoyed the experience I've had of growing up in a large family. How does one define family, in a pratical sense? How do other people (such as you, my readers) define it?

What makes people family?

The Oxford English Dictionary gives us this definition:


• noun (pl. families)
1 a group consisting of two parents and their children living together as a unit.
2 a group of people related by blood or marriage.
3 the children of a person or couple.
4 all the descendants of a common ancestor.
5 all the languages derived from a particular early language.
6 a group united by a significant shared characteristic.

According to this linguistic definition, and probably most people's common definitions, a "family" is a group related by blood or marriage.

To me, that doesn't seem to be quite broad enough.

--Blood relations are certainly important to me. I'm the oldest of seven children, and grew up in a remarkably functional home. Although I currently live at a distance from my immediate family, I keep in close contact, and I do miss them.

--I was homeschooled, 3rd grade through 12th. So a lot of my learning about social interaction was with my siblings. That meant that I learned to get along with people not remotely like me; to live with little quirks without blowing my top at the offenders; to forgive more quickly than to hold a grudge; and that to love one's family means to love them without condition.

--Since most of my siblings and I do not share some important interests, I've always found friendships to be a deeply important part of my life. My mom thinks my ability to be loyal is unusual...but I think it's just because I tend to treat good friends as if they were family, just nicer because we tend to have more in common. :-) I appreciate my friends a bit more, I guess you could say.

--In fact, friendship has taken precedence over the possibility of romance at least once in my life. The only person I ever fell in love with was one of my best male friends at university. He didn't feel the same way, and after a brief discussion, I dropped any hope of a romance with him, because I wanted to keep our friendship much more than I wanted to try and convince him to go out with me.

I sort of see anyone that I see these traits in as family:

--We put up with each others' stupidity and silliness.

--We can be honest with each other.

--We can fight or disagree, fix whatever damage we do to each other in the process, pick each other up and move on.

--We protect and care for each other, whatever that might mean.

--This one is kind of sketchy and depends on the person, but if I am comfortable with touching someone affectionately, hugging, poking, hair-mussing, that's a sure sign I see them as family. I have a hard time touching anyone that I don't feel so close to that touching them is utterly expected and utterly innocent (though nothing is quite as easy and innocent as hugging my 6-yr-old sister, who has NO concept of my personal space, heh).

I know a lot of people might disagree with me on this. I've seen many friends marry, particularly since I graduated from university. As far as I can tell, aside from the obvious "Because I fell in love!" reason, most people marry because they want family, and being grown, that's the socially accepted way to get a family that isn't your parents'.

But if that's true, why do so many families fall apart? It seems to me that people look for romance, and think that romantic love will guarantee family. It may start it on the right note, and marriage is surely a way to start a new group of people, and it's quite permanent (which is a plus for family that is not based directly on blood). But it will not hold a family together. One needs agape, unwavering love, to hold on to someone even when you don't want to, because you have chosen to be with them.

You can't ask (just) "what can they give me?" You have to ask "what can I give them?"

Perhaps someday I'll start a new family unit by getting married to some sweet, intelligent guy.

Till then, I think I have enough family, in my friends both near and far, to be going on with. That unwavering love, that ability to hold on to someone, to forgive and ask for forgiveness.... I know how to do that with my friends, and I think that in the process they become more than that to me.

They become family.

So--I would be deeply interested to hear your takes on family, O flist. Share, if you will!
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Date:March 31st, 2005 10:57 pm (UTC)
The traits you've described are very accurate. Family isn't about blood or marriage, it's about simply feeling a closeness that transcends normal social relations and approaches something very important to oneself. A group of close friends can be a family just as much as two parents and their children. Co-workers can be family, step-parents and step-children can be as well.

I agree with you as well about blindly using romance to start a family. If your loved one is family to you first, that's the sound basis for starting a new family together.

[User Picture]
Date:April 1st, 2005 09:18 pm (UTC)
Family isn't about blood or marriage, it's about simply feeling a closeness that transcends normal social relations and approaches something very important to oneself.

Oh, right--one mental quirk that tells me someone has crossed my boundaries from "acquaintance-friend" to "family-friend" is when I find myself wondering how I would cope if they were suddenly GONE from my life. When they get so far in that their absence would leave a conspicuous hole.
[User Picture]
Date:March 31st, 2005 11:37 pm (UTC)
I agree, sister. :) I totally think family is defined by more than blood. There needs to be agape. I know some people who are 'related' to a whole lot of people but their family is a bunch of people who aren't even remotely related. And I think that's fine.

Heck, if we're all 'children of God' then we're all one big family right? And we've all got different blood... but taht's another issue altogether.

Yes, agape is essential.
[User Picture]
Date:April 1st, 2005 09:21 pm (UTC)
Mei-mei. *hugs kimberleym*

Heck, if we're all 'children of God' then we're all one big family right?

Ha. Maybe that's why I get so worked up about the church not loving each other, not being unified, etc. We're supposed to be family--spritually, of one blood.
[User Picture]
Date:April 1st, 2005 04:12 am (UTC)
I'm too much of a pedant to not want to distinguish between family-by-blood and persons-as-close-as-family-but-by-choice, though the closeness and love can be very similar, and a lot of what you say above rings true.

But I'm too tired at the moment to try to articulate anything profound about this...
[User Picture]
Date:April 1st, 2005 09:28 pm (UTC)
I hope, when you are less tired, you will come back and articulate many profound things on this topic. :-) Seriously, I would love to hear how you would distiguish between family-by-blood and persons-as-close-as-family-but-by-choice.

I am far from strictly objective on the topic, as I am a familial person (could never, in a million years, live in a house by myself. Must have people there when I get home or to be there for when they come home), but do not have marriage prospects and, frankly, am not looking at the moment.

One of the differences I could define is that related-by-blood means that you have a duty to love them. "Home is the place where, when you have to go there,/ They have to take you in." Whereas related-by-choice is a much more free sort of relationship...a "want to," not a "have to." "Home is something that you somehow haven't to deserve." [Robert Frost]

Though I think you may have meant something else.

And anyway, related by blood or not, you can't love someone without in some way making the choice to do so, at least in my experience.

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