What’s a Family These Days?

Shared on Flickr by Keith Kelly
Shared on Flickr by Keith Kelly

“The family. We were a strange little band of characters trudging through life sharing diseases and toothpaste, coveting one another’s desserts, hiding shampoo, borrowing money, locking each other out of our rooms, inflicting pain and kissing to heal it in the same instant, loving, laughing, defending, and trying to figure out the common thread that bound us all together.”   – Erma Bombeck

Our culture is in the process of enlarging the definition of family. There are a lot of reasons for this ranging from economic circumstances to personal choices. As early as 1995 marriage and family textbooks in college were using definitions like this for the family:

One or more adults related by blood, marriage, or affiliation who cooperate
economically who may share a common dwelling place and who may rear children.

(Strong, B. and C. DeVault. 1995. The marriage and family experience. Wadsworth)

Do you see how my students sitting in class read this and start to wonder if they and their roommates are now considered “family” according to this definition? This sort of definition is so wide that almost any arrangement fits and then, of course, it stops being useful. It is the business of society to define itself and its institutions. You and I are society. We create our culture. Marriage and family are the oldest social institutions that remain. We are now living in a period of time in which significant and rapid redefinition is being undertaken by our courts and law making bodies.

Here goes an attempt to provide information that will help you to understand what’s really going on in our society when we come home to our marriages and families.

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”

– Soren Kierkegaard

About Randy Wilson

Professor of Sociology at Houston Baptist University I read, think and write about religion and culture in the United States. It's very interesting and very complicated but incredibly exciting. For many years I have been trying to figure out how people learn best (my students and myself). The classes I teach are always in a state of experimentation - trying to reorganize around what students bring to the table and where we have to go.

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