You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family. This old saying has a lot of truth to it. While it is possible for people to get along and love each other, these kinds of bonds do not form automatically. Families provide one of the deepest levels of connection that we will ever have with other humans. It might be positive, or it might be negative, but you can’t underestimate the power that your family has over you.
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Medically Reviewed By: Aaron Horn, LMFT, MA
What is family?
The definition of family in the traditional sense is "a basic social unit consisting of parents and their children, considered as a group, whether dwelling together or not." When we hear the word, "family," we often think of a person's immediate blood-related family members. However, the definition of a family as given by different dictionaries like Oxford English Dictionary, Merriam Webster, and others varies, and there are more kinds than just the traditional nuclear family unit.
What kinds of families are there?
There are many kinds of families. Family can relate to any of the following:
- Nuclear or traditional families
- Extended family (family members outside of your immediate family)
- Single-parent families (families with only one parental figure present)
- Childless families
- Family by choice (which is often comprised of a group of people that aren't related by blood, such as friends and romantic partners)
All families are unique and have different structures, traditions, and ways of being. Some people have an excellent, stable relationship with their nuclear or traditional family. Other people consider their central family to be the people that they chose to include in their lives.
What if I'm not close to my immediate family?
If you're not close to your immediate nuclear family, it's okay. You may find yourself building a family of your own or establishing a family of choice with those who are not related by blood. Not everyone is born into a stable family environment, and ultimately you have to do what's best for you. Particularly if your nuclear family was abusive, you may find yourself straying from them, and that is okay. It doesn't make you "less than," and it doesn't mean that you won't have close connections in life with people that you consider family. Family, again, can mean so many different things. Having close connections and a healthy level of support is what matters the most.
Conflict in families
Family conflicts are basically active or passive opposition between members of a family. Conflicts can happen in a family when its members have clashing beliefs or varying views on a particular subject or matter. These conflicts may involve different combinations of the members of the family- between the couple/parents, between parents and the children, or between siblings. It can take a variety of forms because of the nature of relationships that exist in the family; they may be physical, verbal, psychological, sexual, or financial conflicts. Sometimes, these conflicts occur when members of the family misunderstand one another or jump to the wrong conclusion concerning a situation. Cases of conflicts which are not peacefully and carefully resolved may lead to arguments and resentment.
Disagreeing with one another or having varying views from time to time is normal in a home or family setting, it is a part of the everyday family life. However, when conflicts are left to linger or are left unresolved for a long time, this can cause a lot of stress, strain and damage to relationships. Some people have difficulty managing their emotions and may make them intentionally or unintentionally aggressive, hurtful, and even violent.
One positive and effective way to reduce and manage conflicts in the family is good communication. Members of the family can communicate their displeasure and grievances in matured and constructive ways, and peaceful resolutions can be reached. Some transition phases or changes which a family goes through may cause conflicts, some of which may include;
- Learning to live together as a new couple and adjusting to the new realities that come with it.
- Birth of a baby or birth of other children.
- A child going to school
- A child growing into a teenager
- A teenager growing into an adult.
Each one of these stages can cause different levels and stages of stresses and potential conflicts.
Changes in a family situation, level or circumstances can also take its toll on a family and bring about or contribute to disputes in the family. Some of these events includes:
- Separation or divorce
- Change in home, city or country of residence
- Change in financial situation
- Long distance travel to and from place of work
- Frequent interstate commuting, etc.
All families fight from time to time, but if your household feels uneasy on a continual basis, it might be time to see a therapist. Sometimes, strong emotional feelings or power imbalances which are present in marital or family relationships may be difficult to resolve and may only be addressed through counseling. You can see a therapist or counselor on an individual level and talk about family issues, or you can see a mental health provider together as a nuclear family. A marriage and family therapist can help you learn to work together as a unit and resolve issues together. In therapy, your family members will all get a chance to speak their mind. You will get to know your nuclear family members better and will learn how to ensure that everyone's needs are met and that everyone is heard.
What if my family doesn't like my spouse or partner?
When you are in a serious relationship, it may be very important to you that your family members like your partner and approve of them. This is very normal. Now, let's say that you are in a healthy committed relationship with your partner that is truly good for you, but is not supported by your nuclear family or relatives. This can be a very tough situation to be in, may make you unhappy and feel torn between choosing your partner over your family, or vice versa. Family members often have strong opinions about the spouses of the individuals within the unit. If this is an issue within your immediate nuclear family, they may voice their opinions in a way that is hurtful to you. In this case, you can set a boundary with your family. Family members don't always make it easy to set boundaries.
It is normal that situations like this may make you feel like reacting angrily or defensively towards your family members. You may want to just shut them up, ignore them, or even keep your relationship a secret from them. While the last option may seem like the easiest solution, it is important to note that all healthy relationships are built on trust, transparency, respect, communication and openness.
If you currently have a fairly healthy relationship with your family members- i.e., you feel safe and confident to talk to them about issues without fear of them overreacting, becoming verbally or physically violent or abusive, then you may want to consider having a heart-to-heart talk with them to get to understand what their specific objectives or expectations about your partner or your relationship are. Try to ensure your approach to this conversation is calm, respectful and open. Ask them what issue they have with your partner/relationship, and why. Do they think he/she is too controlling? Or maybe they don’t like how he/she talks to you? Do they think your partner has wrong intentions towards you? Or is it possible they may have noticed some unhealthy behaviors in your partner which you may not have seen? Take note of their responses. If you are still not convinced, you may go further to ask your trusted friends what they think of your partner. If they have the same concerns that your family members expressed, then you may need to take some time to critically consider the situation to be sure your partner’s behaviors are not warning signs.
If, however, you discover that your family’s reason(s) for not liking or approving of your partner is not valid, or maybe it is based on your partner’s race, appearance or sexual orientation, this may be a little trickier. Disliking someone based on these factors is referred to as prejudice, and the problem really isn’t about your partner but your family. The type of existing relationship you have with your family will determine how you handle such a situation, whether you’ll continue to live with them or how safe you feel around them. You may calmly and respectfully tell them that while you appreciate how they feel, you do not agree with them. You can even suggest that you all, including your partner hang out and spend more time together so they can get to know him/her better. If the relationship begins to cause too many issues or frictions between you and your family, you may want to consider taking a step back, strengthening your bond with your partner whilst you are working things out with your family.
Therapy is an excellent place to work through family issues of any kind. When it comes to family, family therapists are your best bet in terms of a new provider. However, if you are looking to talk to someone one on one about other issues, you might explore other options that are more unique to your needs. Whether you see someone online or in your local area, it's important to ask for help when you need it. The providers at Regain are here to help you and your family work through obstacles so that you can maintain a healthy family unit.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
How do you define family?
The word family (noun) has been widely defined by various dictionaries, word of the day charts, and commonly featured on word games. The dictionary – thesaurus defines family as “a basic social unit consisting of parents and their children, considered as a group, whether dwelling together or not.” Another unabridged dictionary gives the definition of family (noun) as “a family is the spouse and children of one person”. The Oxford English Dictionary also defines family (noun) as “a group consisting of one or two parents, their children and close relations,” and Merriam Webster defines family as “the basic unit in society traditionally consisting of two parents rearing their children.”
These definitions of family from Merriam Webster, thesaurus and oxford English Dictionary are the basic ones we have all come to know and accept over time, and it is one of the most commonly used words all over the world and enjoys the ‘word of the day’ title over and over. To get more definitions of the word of the day – family (noun), or learn more about the synonyms for family, how to use family in a sentence, or the antonyms for family, you may check through the dictionary, thesaurus, word of the day calendar, or word finder.
The part of speech for the word family is a noun. Some family synonyms include relative, home, household, lineage, kindred, tribe, clan, kinsmen, patrimony, while the antonyms for family are extraction, extraction, origin, ancestry.
There are times when the word family (noun) is mentioned and you are filled with all sorts of emotions. The people you think of or the ones that come to mind when family as a word is mentioned are indeed your true family whether or not you are related by blood. The ones you call family could be the person or persons who see through you and understand you. They could be the people who are related to you by association or closely related to you through place of origin. A man may call a group of people related by blood, marriage, or club or social group his family if they are the ones who have been there for him.
Family definition, like the one from Merriam Webster, can mean different things to different people. A group of people who have stayed together or shared a space together for a period of time can decide to call themselves family if the relationship is that good and important to them. While the basic definition of family is those related by blood, the 21st century which many can relate to when it comes to the definition of family, is not necessarily some group of people related by blood. Those who are related by blood, marriage or social club may decide to start calling themselves family and they would not be wrong.
The nuclear family consists of the father, mother and children and the extended family will include everyone outside the nuclear family such as uncles, aunts, nephews, nieces, cousins and grandparents. The nuclear family, often seen as the basic unit of any society, may for one reason or the other comprise of a single parent, either a man or woman and the children.
Based on the definition of family such as the one from Merriam Webster dictionary, this relationship can also be through blood, marriage or adoption. Many families usually opt for adoption for different reasons. A child who was adopted will define family as he or she understands it despite having the knowledge that he or she was adopted. Defining marriage either through blood, marriage or adoption rests solely on the person who is making the definition.
For people who have travelled away from home, only to reside in a different part of the world may decide to connect with others based on ancestral language and therefore call such people family as a result of place of origin. Therefore, the definition of family is entirely based on different circumstantial factors as defined by the person who is defining the word. The word family, in a sentence, means there is a connection between people either by blood, marriage, socialization, adoption or even with pets, such as a cat. Family is an important fabric of society.
What is the true meaning of family?
The true meaning of family (noun) is going to be defined by the person doing the answering. The meaning is different for different people. As seen in Merriam Webster, from the basic definition of family, the members of the family are the father, mother and children. However, there are families that only comprise of the man and woman, both deciding not to have children. For homosexual parent who opt for surrogacy or not, will call their own unit a family as well. The present age has different perspectives to the definition of family. Therefore, the family meaning will be given in relation to the reality of the person answering the question. The family life will also be different for children raised by a single parent and those raised by both. There are many factors that will come into play once the definition of family is being said by different persons.
The meaning of family, as seen in Merriam Webster dictionary, could also be different for a lady who has an emotional relationship with her pet. People are fond of their pets to the extent that some pets are classified as family. Pets could be dogs or cats and could be classified as family if their owners are emotionally inclined to them or otherwise. The meaning of family for a single parent family could be sharing love with your child or children as often as possible while receiving the love in return. Due to the challenges often faced solely in a single parent family, the children will also define the meaning of family differently with respect to the absence of a parent figure. To learn more meaning of the word family, its synonyms and antonyms, do look through the thesaurus or dictionary.
What are the 4 types of family?
The norm of considering the nuclear family as the accepted type of family has changed as there are diverse types of family. The family unit can be made of different combinations of the parent and children. The examples of the family unit can be classified as follows;
- Nuclear Family: this is considered the traditional basic family unit consisting of the father, mother and the children. The idea behind a nuclear family is that both parents are raising the kids, whether they are biological or adopted. The spouse and children are known to live and grow through life together, mostly under the same roof. The nuclear family means family values are mostly passed by the parents to children as they grow, often excluding extended family members from the close family unit.
- Extended Family: This usually consists of all the related family members including the nuclear family. These other family members who are mostly related by blood or marriage include uncles, aunts, nephews, nieces, cousins, grandparents. In this type of family, unlike the nuclear family, the children often provide physical support for the elderly ones while they in turn provide moral and emotional support for the children. The downside in this type of setting, especially if they live together is the lack of privacy. This type of family setting can be seen in middle English families from Latin lineage or families from Latin familia.
- Single parent Family: As the name implies, this refers to a family unit that consists of one parent and the child or children. This could be to the death of a spouse, divorce or decision not to get married and desire to have children. Unlike the normal traditional setting, this type of family often creates a stronger bond between the single parent and the child, in the case of a single child. They could bond over family movies or over devotion sharing the family bible. The downside in this example of family type is that quality child care may be an issue if the single parent has to work for long hours. Also for parents who are divorced, the child or children may find it difficult to adjust to moving from one parent to another from time to time.
- Step Family: this type of family, unlike basic nuclear family means two different families of divorced parents are coming together to form one single family. It could also mean a middle-English parent with children coming to marry one who has never been married before. While many often frown at this type of scenario, sometimes called blended family, in the past, it has become more accepted in recent years. It could be a Spanish English family coming together with a Latin familia. The downside of this is that children may have a difficult time adjusting to having new siblings or a parent figure to deal with, especially as people with different views of life are coming together such as the Spanish English family and the Latin familia, to make up a blended family.
Why is family so important?
Despite the growing and changing civilization patterns, family, being the basic fabric of any society still holds true irrespective of the type you are from. A group of people who are related by blood, marriage, adoption, or social club could be called family. The different types of family, nuclear, extended, step or single parent family, all have certain things in common that makes the concept of family very important. When a group of people relate together over a period of time, they share space, time, energy, companionship and support which are all needed to navigate the terrains of life. The common characteristics which make family very important are;
- Meeting of basic needs: children and adults making up the family structure, means the basic needs of the children are going to be met by the adults through provision of food, shelter, clothing etc. In cases where extended family members stay together, the elderly would always need some assistance, which can be provided by the younger ones.
- Support system: the words from family members may be the only thing you need to navigate the hard times or setbacks. Words from family members may be in the form of encouragement or pure understanding of the situation, may be all you need to pick yourself up and try again. Other times, having someone or a group of persons to share the good news with, is very important. Having a support system and knowing that encouraging words from family members are readily available.
- Provision of finances: when a group of persons stay together as a family, those who are able to work are laced with the responsibility of providing for other members of the family who are unable to work due to age or health reasons.
- Navigating health challenges: having to go through a period of ill health alone can be extremely difficult. For a blended family who have grown to understand one another, navigating health challenges would mean, every member playing their part to ensure the one with ill health does not lack his or her needs.
- Benefit to the community: irrespective of the type of family; nuclear, extended, single parent or blended family, the overall benefit of a healthy to the larger society cannot be overemphasized. The general consensus would mean the community will tend to enjoy the aftermath of having people grow from healthy families contributing to the society. It is important to realize that an unhealthy family could become a crime family and a menace to the community. The general idea is to reduce the spread of crime in the society when there are more healthy families.
What is love of a family?
Love of a family is unconditional. It is accepting you the way you are irrespective of your misdemeanors or infractions. Family in a sentence means sticking and staying by you no matter what. As children and adults in a healthy family, the love and bond that usually transcends the ephemeral feeling of being together. It goes deeper than the physical and it is why it is called unconditional love. The type of love that accepts you and welcomes you always. There is the tendency for plural families to experience the reverse due to the different family values of the parents. A man with many wives as in the case of polygamy or polyamory as the case is in typical African families historically in the past, family love may be missing from the man with many wives or the woman with many husbands.
What are the 6 functions of the family?
The family is known to provide some basic functions to the society. Healthy families with excellent family values are known to benefit society on a grand scale by giving back and improving the livelihood of one another. The six functions of a family are;
- Socialization of children which can be good for plural families.
- Love and nurturance which can be made strong when the family prepares for a family day out or vacations and bonding over word games during camping.
- Maintenance and physical care
- Social control and values
- Production of goods and services as each nuclear family or extended family fend for themselves, sometimes through family business. Family also provide their own food through farming and gardening.
- Addition of new members which ensures the history of the family is maintained over the years.
What is the purpose of family?
Biological reasons and socialization are two important purposes of family. Royal family or everyday family are going to socialize daily. While a royal family may be strict on the children socialization, the relationship between the royal family children and the average family is still going to exist. Socialization is very important in the growth of any community or society irrespective of social class as in the case of the royal family. Biological reasons like procreation are also essential for the continuity of the society. When people give birth, it means another generation has started and the family name can continue to be heard, especially for people with names associated with different events in their family history.
What is love between family called?
The natural affection and feeling towards parents from their children or towards children from their parents is called Storge. Storge could be the word of the year for persons who moved from friendship to love. It is also used to describe the level of intimacy or love shared between family and lovers. It could be a group of related feelings often leading to love, as seen when people care compassionately for each other.
In the nuclear family, family type that consists of the father, mother and children, Storge is likely going to be present. Like that of Merriam Webster Dictionary, the different definitions for “family” (noun); a group of individuals who share a strong bond and are either related by blood or not. Storge usually represents the type with no sexual attraction. While “philia” from Merriam Webster dictionary is defined as a group of individuals with friendly feelings, it could also mean the type of love between friends.
The traditional biological family setting that has the man as the head of the family also consists of the wife and or children. Unlike the nuclear family, the extended family also consists of other members of the family such as uncles, aunts, nieces, nephews and grandparents. Here, storge may be difficult to ascertain due to the different family trees now involved. The family trees and family structures are also very important to check during family reunions to see how big the family is and also discuss the family history with those who are becoming matured in age, need to have this understanding and know the family history. The family structures can also help to see how the members of the family are linked by marriage and blood.
What makes a good family?
From the dictionary, family (noun) means people of a unit who share a bond together. From this meaning in the dictionary, family can be said to mean people with a bond, strong enough to call themselves family. Good and healthy family relationships are good when support can be gotten from one another. A good family provides a sense of belonging and family allowance, family bond, security and freedom to explore and become a better person as they encourage and support you through your journey. A good family, irrespective of your wrongs and shortcomings, would welcome you back with open arms and help you heal and get better. Signs of a good family is evident when nuclear family or extended family members appreciate one another and are mindful of how they show disapproval, while acknowledging each other’s similarities and differences. It is like a tribe which depicts a taxonomic group ranking above a genus and below a family or subfamily.
A good family can also be one who has a family pet such as a cat which they consider as part of the family. In the cat family for example, the ranking above a genus is called Family. The ranking above a genus is called Felidae in Latin. This taxonomic ranking above a genus for the cat family shows that the cat is a member of the kingdom Animalia.
Some English families have Famulus (servant), sometimes called maid and are considered part of the large family. After a while they may be seen as related to the family. While many of the maids are not related to the family by blood, the relationship and time spent with their bosses often makes them considered as part of the family. Words form family members, including extended family members often position many of the maid as a part of the family, if they have exhibited good character over the years. Merriam Webster Dictionary defined Famulus as a private secretary or attendant. The attendant, having to spend more time with a group of related people, either a nuclear family or extended family, can be considered as one related to the family after a while. You can check through more dictionaries like Merriam Webster or the word of the day calendar for how to use the word Famulus in a sentence.
What makes a family strong?
A strong family depicts strength and loyalty among its members. This loyalty is mostly channeled to other members in the family. Parents in families such as this, teach the children family values by doing and showing than just giving out instructions. Strong families stand by and with each other in difficult times and stand up for other members of the nuclear family or extended family when they are facing attacks from someone outside the family. Strong families stick together in good and bad times, in times of lack and in times of plenty. They ensure they solve their issues internally and among themselves, without external interference. At the center of their strength is unconditional love.
For a child, people from the mother's side or father’s side are considered part of the extended family. Having to spend more time together and understand the family structure can build the bond in a family whether the family members are from the mother’s side or the father’s. The type of support family members, either nuclear family or extended family, give to one another, either the family lives close or distant away from another can be said to be a contributing factor to having a strong family. In a nuclear family for example, the children may share family members from extended relations such as uncles and aunts and have them be their mentors, thereby, making their bonds stronger.
Like Merriam Webster defined, the nuclear family is “a group that consists only of parents and children”. However, the legal definition of family gives it a bit broader view which can be considered as giving the members of the family to include more humans. “Family” definition in the legal terms is “two or more persons related through blood, marriage or legal adoption or unrelated persons who jointly occupy and have equal access to all areas of a dwelling unit and who function together as an integrated economic unit”.