When the word “family” is mentioned various people visualize deeply personal images of their own families or the types to which they desire. Across the United States families have provided love and support to children and have been the center of domestic activity for adults. At their best, families are where children and adults share in mutually affirming comfort and growth.
Each generation begins their families with a basic social understanding of how this institution works and benefits people as a whole and individually. There is also the steady evolution of families throughout history. The type of family depicted on mass media such as found in “Leave It To Beaver” is one ideal that is advocated by certain groups but is difficult to duplicate in the real world. Actually, family structure has varied not only throughout history, but also from place to place.
The single-unit or “nuclear” family as advocated by traditionalists is one successful type of family that exists in the world today. One usually finds differently sexed individuals pairing up in marriage to raise one or more children. Also frequently found are “joint families” or “extended families”. These are very common traditional structures found in many cultures. Here we find parents, children, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents all living under the same roof or in very close proximity. This arrangement offers an expanded opportunity for child development and family support.
Depending on culture and place we find families living according to matrilocal or patrilocal residence, sometimes families change between living among either spouse’s extended families. According to culture, there are polygamous or polygynous families, those that are polyandrous and monogamous. Monogamous families are the most common type.
These types may vary between consanguine families, that is the blood relationship of mother and child; father and child; grandparent and grandchild; single parent units, and so forth.
We commonly find the conjugal family which consists of adult members who have an intimate relationship with each other who live with or without children. Conjugal families are usually formed by differently gendered adults but are increasingly common between same-gendered adults. More and more, instances of all types of families can be found in North America and the U.S. These variations are changing the way people understand the definition of family.
Modern life has added new stresses to family well-being. The number of separated and divorced spouses is far too common. High mobility causes family members to be isolated from each other. Military families are frequently isolated due to activations and deployments. Political, cultural and religious strife regarding particular definitions of marriage cause divisions among family members.
Regardless of one’s definition of family, most of us agree that our true family is where we find growth, support, and unconditional love. Whatever family structure we have, is our own safe harbor. During this Thanksgiving Holiday week, we pause to give thanks for our families.