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February 15, 2010
by Carlton Brown

What is a Family?

February 15, 2010 16:18 by Carlton Brown

 By Carlton Brown, M.Sc., M.Div., RMFT  

Today was a statutory holiday where I live. We have this thing called Family Day, which I thought was just a Canadian thing but according to Wikipedia is a holiday in South Africa, Alberta, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Prince Edward Island, Arizona, Vanuatu, Vietnam, and part of Australia. Not unlike the postmodern family, no one really seems to know what Family Day is about or agree on whether even to recognize it. The day, just like its namesake, has no “One size fits all.” My one daughter seemed to think that Family Day meant that you were supposed to stay with your family and that if you didn’t then at least you should feel guilty about it. “Happy Family Day, Dad,” she said as she slunk out of the car and into her friend’s house. Robert Beavers in his 1981 Successful Marriage said that guilt was good if it lasted less than five minutes and led to a change of behaviour. No joy here. Rather she reminded me of a couple I saw once. Both had had affairs - but the woman felt justified because she felt more guilty about her affair than her husband did about his. But I encouraged to her go, actually. She is at that age where she is supposed to be leaving my family, and thinking about starting a family of her own. The more time she spends with her friends, the better - and the more time I have for napping, or reading. The other daughter of mine felt that Family Day was an offense, falling, as it does, immediately after Valentine’s Day. “Valentine’s Day for love, and Family Day for what? To remind you of what can happen to you if you have too much love? Yuck!” She called today another name that I will not bother to repeat. But she too used the time to reconcile and reunite with friends. Elizabeth Carter and Monica McGoldrick wrote (1989) The Changing Family Life Cycle to remind us that families are not static. At the very least, they evolve, from couples, to couples with young children, to kids in school, to teenagers, to launching and the empty nest, to older couples and to old age and death. There is wondrous variety to this basic scheme: same-sex couples, with and without children, single parents, never-married singles, two-home families. Each goes through its own stages of expansion and contraction, birth and death. My dictionary defines a family as parents and children living in the same household. They don’t have to be related to each other! The kids could be adopted. The Family Law Act of Ontario defines a parent as someone having a “settled intention” to raise a particular child. More variety. Etymology takes us to the heart of the matter, however: “family” derives from the Latin noun “famula”, meaning “servant” or “slave”. The next time you’re vacuuming or doing a load of never-ending laundry, consider that you belong to the “family” of families. Nor is this a bad thing. I spent most of Family Day doing just that: laundry, vacuuming, cleaning floors, while the rest of my family was out doing their thing. It gave me pleasure to know that they were launching as they should be, that I perhaps had done and was doing my part to create the next generation of families. And after that I took a nap, peacefully.



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