First, let’s define family
How do you even begin to define the term “family”? One would think that the answer to this question would be obvious. It’s not. Let’s start with what we’re given:
The Bermuda Department of Statistics uses the following definition: “[a group] consisting of persons within a household, who form a unit that is separate from other members of the household, by virtue of their connection through blood, adoption, common law or foster parent-child relationships”.
Confused yet? They go on to define “family types”. On the island, and according to a document called Characteristics of Bermuda’s Families(2006) you should be one of the following:
The “classic” nuclear family
Two parents (by convention married and of opposite sexes) with one or more children by birth, adoption, or in the cases of re-marriages, of one or both partners. Of course, there is no longer any reason to assume that the parents must be married. And they can equally also be of the same sex.
The increasingly prevalent single-parent family
One parent with one or more children. While it used to be because of death or divorce, we are starting to see the trend where more single parents intentionally do not marry. Many of them live with an adult partner, sometimes even the unmarried father/mother of their children. Where it used to be that single-parent families were headed by the mother, we’re now seeing more single father: an interesting reflection of the society’s changing views on the role of fathers in child-rearing.
The unmarried couple with or without children
Regardless of sexual orientation, the children may be of one or both parents.
The grandparent/grandchild family
One or more grandparents step in to raise children because of financial needs, or absence of parents through death, abandonment, addiction, or irresponsibility. Under this umbrella, may include other variants on older relatives raising children of one or more siblings – nieces/nephews, minor cousins.
The multi-generational family
Three or more generations living together.
The foster family
A family in which adults raise their own children and children who have been placed with them formally or informally because of being orphaned or abandoned.
They also throw around the academic term: “isolated nuclear family” – meaning someone who lives alone. Which brings us back to the question, “What is Family?”
In the real world, families tend to be created as a result of blood ties, affinity (marriage being an example), or co-residence (living in the same place). One can also make the distinction between immediate and extended family. It also has to be said that “family” can have very different meanings depending upon cultural and economic context.
- In South America, it’s not uncommon to see a great number of children and families appreciating time spent together. However, family violence is prevalent.
- In Europe, you see small families and very flexible parenting styles, while the husband is usually viewed as the head of the household.
- In Asia, families are very big, although male children are preferred. Parenting styles are quite rigorous.
- In Australia, the families are not as big, and both the mother and the father take care of the children. There is a big focus on health and sports.
- In Africa, similar to Asia, we see big families that enjoy spending time together – a concept that plays a big role in education.
If we focus on Bermuda, a small society whose characteristics have, as always, been shaped by history, we have a unique opportunity to create our definition of family as it is seen today. Once one starts thinking about what a “family” actually is, reality turns out to be very different from expectation.
Unfortunately, there are no recent published government statistics on family configurations, so we have to rely on anecdotal evidence that all is not well, with the nuclear family forming a decreasing percentage of family units, leading to a range of social, emotional and economic consequences for those who find themselves in unstable, dysfunctional or unsustainable environments.
Fortunately, Bermuda has a number of truly dedicated and committed organisations, led by individuals who are not only experts in the “Business of Family”, but by their actions and words show that empathy, compassion and plain hard work can make a difference when a family environment is threatened by domestic violence, economic hardship, sexual predation and neglect.
Without ignoring or diminishing the impact of many other organisations and individuals, we were fortunate to gather together two experts for a discussion. Head here to read the conversation between Saadia Bean and Martha Dismont.
Are your relationships healthy? Read more about it here.