What is a family? What does it mean? Is it simply a word to describe the similar chemical attributes in our DNA that make us family and nothing else? Just a biological likeness of genes and blood lines? Or, is it more than just basic genetics?
If sharing DNA is what makes a group of people a family then, where do we draw the line? As a human species, we all share common DNA traits and only a radically small percentage of our DNA makeup is what makes us unique at all. So where does family end? second cousins, third cousins? Maybe fourth cousins, once removed? You see, when we take this seemingly simple definition of a family we run into several scientific, moral and ethical issues.
What about adopted children, orphans who find foster parents, or other ‘non-biologically connected’ people who come together to form a family unit. Are they considered family or not?
In life, we even have unrelated friends we call family, we say things like “he’s like a brother to me” or “growing up, they were like a second family for me”… So, it becomes clear that the notion of the nuclear biological family doesn’t seem to fit today (and perhaps it never really did?). Relationships are complex in themselves so I guess it makes sense that groups of relationships we call families can be equally, if not harder to define.
However, does it need to be that complicated? What if a family is about love and anyone close to you with whom you share a mutual love and respect could be considered family? That’s easy enough, however, the opposite is also true in that you may have biological family members that you find hard, or even impossible, to love. We don’t get to choose our family and children who grow up in trauma often struggle with guilt due to the traditional concept of family which haunts them touting notions of ‘you must love your family at all costs’. I think this is perhaps where the difference between a ‘relative’ and ‘family’ comes in.
We tend to use the word ‘relative’ for people we’re not close to whereas the word ‘family’ is reserved for those we love.
Life’s complicated and not everyone is deserving of your love. Those who are… well, they’re the ones who are family. The ones who support you, care for you, love and cherish you through the ups and downs… they’re the people you want in your life. Whether these are your biological parents or not, is not the point. The point here is that the fundamental principle of family is love and if love is present then the family bond will be healthy and strong.
So, can we say which is stronger… side-by-side? What creates a stronger bond? Is it biological DNA and family genetics or love? In the perfect scenario, the two will be intertwined and unable to be separated. The will meld and blend to the point where they’re completely indistinguishable and not even considered. However, sometimes the biology and love do fall apart in which case love tends to be the winner at all costs. This suggests that love is, in fact, more powerful than biology and like any relationship, love must be earned and is not just given based on sharing chemical genetics. A connection of hearts it what will prevail above all else. When you have a family of hearts singing from the same song sheet, well, the beauty of that is unstoppable.
Society is realising this too and rapidly changing from preconceived notions of a family where the father went out to work while the mum stayed home and did the housework to a concept of love and connection. Even popular culture is catching up with this with shows like ‘Modern Family’ where the extended families in the show are anything but traditional, but they’re held together by love and compassion (most of the time)!
So, I think that we should worry less about what constitutes a family and where the progression of society is leading the role of the mother or father figure, and focus more on love. If love is at the core of our relationships and our hearts connected, then the happy family will endure whether biological or not.