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What does family mean in 2023?

Updated: Jan 18, 2023

We might often define a “normal family” as two married parents and their biological children living together under one roof…

Is this still the ‘best’ way to define family in the 21st century? 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?

The ‘traditional’ definition of family

Family (noun) - a group consisting of one or two parents and their children.

This is how the Oxford English Dictionary defines family…

When most of us imagine a typical family, we probably picture a mother, a father, and 2.5 children — maybe even a white picket fence, too.

Then again, this picture of the “normal” family might just be a remnant from the 1950s.

How has the traditional family changed?

According to Pew Social Trends research, family structure in the United States has changed significantly:

  • In 1960, 73% of kids lived with two parents who were in their first marriage, and by 2014 that percentage dropped to 46%.

  • By 2014, 15% of parents were re-married.

  • By 2014, 7% were unmarried and cohabitating parents.

  • By 2014, 26% of children lived with single parents.

  • 16% of children live in a blended family household (step-child, step-parent, or half-sibling).

  • As of 2017, there were 1.1 million married same-sex couples in the United States with about 200,000 children being raised within these households. Among those who identify as LGBTQ+, who are under 50 years old, and living alone or with a spouse or partner, 48% of women and 20% of men are raising a child.

What is a ‘normal’ family anyway?

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.”

These days, families take all forms.

A family can be headed by grandparents, consist of single adults with no children, or include same-gender parents, to name just a few options.

What defines a family in 2022? Is it only parents and children? Extended family? Important friends? A formed community? Someone we take care of, or that takes care of us?

With recent social movements, we have witnessed how the expression of individuality has created a more progressive and accepting society that pushes change and growth.

Everyone deserves a place in the world to feel as though they belong, even if that doesn’t exist with their biological family.

It is important to note the developments in our conceptions of family in order to reflect on our own family structures.

In this sense, ask yourself, “Who do I consider my family?”

Breaking it down: what is the role of family?

The concept of family has changed dramatically throughout history. In each era, the role of marriage, children, and lineage take on different purposes.

Let’s remember that not long ago, women were the property of men and children were there to tend the fields.

Thankfully, much has changed but only when we take a step back can we understand what role family plays in our own lives.

Families also have unique characteristics and relationships compared to other groups of people.

Almost no other group besides family has the level and range of influence on a person's life over time — from big decisions like where someone lives, to things as simple as how they squeeze a toothpaste tube.

At the same time, families don't come with instruction manuals. Being part of a family doesn't necessarily mean that someone knows everything about being in a healthy, well-functioning family.

So, what are some of the functions of a family?

Financial support

Prior to the 60’s, it was highly uncommon for a woman to work. But, dual-income families are much more common.

In 2022, it was reported that women made up just under 55% percent of the paid labor force.

This is echoed by many ELANZA members who find themselves financially independent and without a need to settle down for financial reasons.

Emotional support

Emotional support is a crucial part of any healthy relationship, and receiving it makes us feel valued and important.

Decades of research has shown that having emotional support in your life has many benefits, including mental health and physical health.

Our family, however we choose to define it, and who we choose to include in this definition, is very often the people we are closest to and trust the most.

Our families are always there, or so we hope, they provide support in more ways than not. Often being a shoulder to cry on, an ear to listen or a helping hand.

How does our family aid us in becoming better people?

If your immediate family doesn’t look how society ‘expects’ it to, it does not make it any less of a family.

And if we cannot find that place of security and support within our immediate family, acknowledge that family can be anyone.

The meaning of family isn’t declining — it has just found a new place in our constantly changing world.

The idea of identifying, accepting, and showing your true self to the world and using that as a basis to create the life you choose is core to coaching - and the idea of building a family in whatever way you choose is core to our values.

In that spirit, we’re celebrating and welcoming all kinds of families and future families.

Who makes a family?

The ‘traditional family’ consists of a father, a mother, and children.

This is the nuclear family often shown on television as the familial standard.

However, the 21st century showcases various family units, some very different from the standard unit of prior decades.

Today, children are often raised in single-parent homes, by grandparents, or by LGBTQ+ parents.

Some families opt to have no children or cannot have children due to medical or emotional barriers.

The idea that parents and children make a family is a basic definition; however, to accurately acknowledge other family structures, a broader definition is necessary.

In addition to a universal family definition, plenty of people consider a group of friends to be family, and many consider pets as defining members of the family unit.

Who comprises a family is up to the people in the family themselves.

People may opt to keep blood relatives in their lives or let them go if they are toxic to their well-being.

Many folks add caring and supportive people to their extended clan when they choose, deciding who belongs in their specific definition of family.

Bringing visibility to all families

What does it mean to be trans and thinking about starting a family?

Watch Nick’s Story, where they share with us in brave detail their personal thoughts, dreams, and fears around the physical, emotional and social challenges of fertility and family building as a trans individual.

Single parent families

In 2020, 25% of the children residing in the United States were living in single-parent households.

Having two committed parents living under the same roof, raising their children was once the norm, but no longer.

Single-parent households have tripled since the 1960s, and 19 million children refer to single-parent arrangements as their family.

While being a single parent can come along with additional financial and emotional stressors, millions of parents care for their kin every day, independent of a spouse or partner.

I would say to every single parent currently feeling the weight of stereotype or stigmatization that I am prouder of my time as a single mother than any other time in my life - JK Rowling

Single parenthood by choice

While we may imagine our lives in a ‘traditional family structure’ (first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby in a baby carriage…), the idea of single parenthood may be somewhere in the back corners of our minds… an alternate option.

Perhaps in our late 20s, 30s or even 40s, we may finally feel ready to settle down, but when each successive date or relationship doesn’t turn into “the one,” what do we do?

We may find ourselves thinking of ‘Plan B’ we start thinking or saying something along the lines of ‘If I am still single at 35, I’ll have a baby on my own.’

Once we start thinking of single parenthood by choice and even saying it out loud, we might notice that many other single people have a ‘Plan B’ to dive into single parenthood at some point.

However, what happens when we turn 35 and it’s time to put our money (quite literally) where our mouth is…

Extended families

For many people, family extends far beyond parents and siblings. Extended family refers to the many relatives connected by a person through DNA.

In-laws, grandparents, cousins, aunts, and uncles might be a part of someone's extended family.

Many family units, especially in other cultures from around the globe, live with extended family members under the same roof.

Extended families can also live far apart, but remain connected through their common history, heritage and tradition, and commitment to each other.

Blended families

A blended family, or a stepfamily, is formed as a result of a marriage where both married partners have children from previous relationships.

When they join their lives together, they create a new family dynamic. Blended families are quite common in modern times, and 40% of wed couples in the United States are step-couples.

Living in a blended family comes with its fair share of barriers, like adjustment periods, resentment, confusion, and jealousy, but they are also full of benefits.

In blended families, stepchildren can become closely bonded friends, enjoy new traditions that come with new family members, and can include the emotional and financial support of more than one contributing adult.

Friends as family

Many people consider friends to be as close or even closer than extended (or immediate) family.

People who have lost close family members or have become removed from them may create a family unit of friends with similar interests and goals to become replacements or enhancements to a lacking family structure.

This type of family unit, while untraditional, can be just as close, if not closer, than a traditional structure.

You can't choose your blood relatives, but you can choose your friends! In having the option to decide who to bring into your friends-as-family unit, you have the ability to draw in only positive and supportive beings.

In addition, some people who have supportive families also have an extensive network of friends who they consider a second family or as additions to their blood or legal relatives.

They have the best of both worlds, and highlight the notion that lives are made richer by the loving and supportive people you surround yourself with.

Redefining family

The word family is one of the most loosely defined terms in the English language; because it means something different to everyone.

While one person may define family as the relatives who share their home, another may consider family to include extended relatives residing near and far.

Still, someone else views their beloved circle of friends or pets as family. Families are vastly different, but they all function under one single premise: shared love and commitment.


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