Redefining family in the 21st century


Redefining family in the 21st centuryThe 20th century challenged us to think more broadly about what it is to be a member of a family. Traditionally, when you heard the word “family,” the image of a mother, father and children came to mind. In other words, our biological families that tie us together by our bloodlines and ancestry have traditionally been the most common view of family. We’ve all heard the saying “Blood is thicker than water.” This term means that no other relationship is more important than blood-related relationships.

In the 21st century, this view has changed, especially from a sociological perspective. Family now extends way beyond our blood relations and captures a much broader sense of what it means to be connected in a familial sense. Some even say that our chosen families bring us more strength and energy than our own biological families.

Family, to some, can be a close friend with whom we have shared the good times as well as the bad. And for some, family includes our pets for their boundless love and affection. Our pets never question the role they play in our lives. Through thick and thin, they remain reliable and our most constant companions. To confirm this sentiment, just take a look at how many people can instantly pull up pictures of their pets from their cell phones or point to the screen saver on their computers. For them, these wonderful creatures are a bona fide member of the family.

I don’t care how poor a man is; if he has family, he’s rich – M*A*S*H

Our social support networks also frame our idea of family. A group of individuals who share a common bond such as race or religion or sexual orientation can be considered an extension or broader definition of the microcosm of the nuclear family. During the 80s with the rise of AIDS, many associated this disease with being gay and a great divide erupted. The gay community quickly came together and formed strong bonds in order to provide support for their dying brothers and sisters. Even the familial term “brother” or “sister” is used in the gay community to signify the strength of these bonds and many believe them to be thicker than blood.  It is the families we choose to nurture that provide us with the most support and love that we need to thrive as human beings.

Families today can mean extended family, blended family or even same-sex families. What we know is that the definition of family is much, much more than a mom, a dad, and children.

Perhaps the definition of family includes not only blood relations but a group of people who have experienced a similar situation or feelings – a common bond. Family is more than a group of people; it’s what keeps us moving forward. For some, family conjures up many feelings like support, pain, hurt, love, understanding, fun, laughing and so on and so on.

What we do know is that family, no matter its composition, is important to our mental health and resilience, and our sense of belonging and self-worth. Find your family (your tribe) and let them help you strive to be the best you can be.

You can contact your Employee and Family Assistance Program to find support groups in your neighbourhood. Just call 1 866 833-7690 or visit

By Michel Arsenault

Tags: , ,