Thursday, July 9, 2009


People have all sorts of experiences with families. What kind of experience often depends on the kind of family they grew up with. There is also the kind of family that they want to create or are creating--which is influenced by the kind of family they grew up in. As a result, families can be havens of safety or hotbeds of disfunction and abuse.

There are many kinds of families. I want to look at three in particular: the nuclear family, the extended family, and the chosen family.

Nuclear families is what western society currently encourages--two adults, married, in a monogamous relationship, living together and often raising kids. In this isolated, individualistic society, they are often totally dependent on each other, stuck together and sometimes feeling trapped. The joke is that it's called the nuclear family because it's so explosive.

Extended families are the more traditional families, where several generations live together, often with aunts, uncles, cousins--nearby, if not in the same house. There is more kin to mingle with, which can be good or bad. Sometimes it may feel like they're all there watching out for each other, and sometimes it may feel like you can't get away from them.

Chosen family is what it says, family that you choose. This isn't always wonderful; Karen Lindsay points out: "Sometimes the chosen family mirrors the worst of biological families: The patriarchal power, the crippling dependency, the negation of the individual selves that can exist in a secure framework. Charles Manson was the leader of a chosen family; so was Jim Jones."

In truth, any of these three kinds of families can be healthy, good for people, or can be a horror show. What makes the difference? Little things like love, caring, and listening to each other. Even if everything in this society falls apart and we need to create something new from scratch, I think families will be part of the mix--and the families we create will still depend on what we bring to them.

Family Equality Council--An online resource for GLBT families
Karen Lindsey, Friends as Family--A book about chosen family which explores a variety of ways family can be created; includes a chapter on 'Negative Chosen Familes'
Marriage & Family Processes--A sociological view on what the family is; it notes the controversies regarding types of families and contains a massive amount of links and references for those who want to explore more
Mike Martelli, "Network Therapy"--An article on a tool that emerged from Family Therapy that involves looking at extended family and social networks; much more information can be found in the books Family Networks (by Ross Speck and Carolyn Attneave) and Networking Families in Crisis (by Uri Rueveni); the original authors talk about 'Retribalization' (recreating 'tribes' or family networks) and its potential beyond family therapy is indicated by a postscript to this technical article: "In the broader context, as considered by Speck, political & social issues and problems may be appropriate for a retribalizing of persons sharing similar concerns. In this sense, the anti-war movement of the late 60's & early 70's, the anti-'nuke' movement of the 80's, and other issues capable of enlisting social concern & activism are serving to fortify supportive bonds between people. Ultimately, one may wish to extend this network conceptualization to it's fullest macrosocial application & envision a retribalization of the whole planet..."
Eric Raimy, Shared Houses, Shared Lives--Another book on chosen families (the subtitle is "The New Extended Families and How They Work"), this one shading into looking at communities, the subject of the next post
United Nations Programme on the Family--An agency within the UN devoted to exploring 'family issues'; they appreciate the diversity of families and promote the equality of women and men within families

Quote of the Day: "In every conceivable manner, the family is link to our past, bridge to our future." - Alex Haley


Robyn Coffman said...

Wonderful post, as always...

MoonRaven said...

Thank you!