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A Family is a Family…is a Family, Right?

By:  Christine Crosby, Editorial Director, GRAND – The Digital Magazine for Grandparents and Families

What is a family? Some believe in the strict definition and some embrace a more open definition. To get this conversation started, here are a few of the more formal definitions of family.

Family is a group of people or animals species (from the equivalent of a human family wherein the adults care for the young) affiliated by consanguinity or co-residence. Although the concept of consanguinity originally referred to relations by “blood,” anthropologists have argued that one must understand the idea of “blood” metaphorically and that many societies understand family through other concepts rather than through genetic distance.

consanguineal family consists of a parent and his or her children, and other people.

conjugal family includes only the husband, the wife, and unmarried children who are not of age. The most common form of this family is regularly referred to as a nuclear family.

nuclear family is a family group consisting of only a father and mother and their children, who share living quarters. This can be contrasted with an extended family.

An extended family group is immediate family members living together with extra-nuclear family members such as grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins and nieces and nephews.

Today, we hear the term “kinship family” used to distinguish between relatives by blood and marriage, although recently some anthropologists have argued that many societies define kinship in terms other than “blood.” In America today, we have over 6 million children being raised in kinship families (mostly led by grandparents).

The meaning of “family” can get more complicated so I’ll close with, ohana. Ohana means family in an extended sense of the term including blood-related, adoptive or intentional. It emphasizes that family members are bound together and must cooperate and “remember one another.” In traditional Hawaiian culture the term applies strictly to blood relations, but today, the definition is used to include no-blood relatives as well. One of the ways this term has become popularized is through the children’s TV series, Lilo and Stitch about a little Hawaiian child, Lilo, and a creature from outer space, Stitch. Stitch says, “This is my family. I found it, all on my own. Is little, and broken, but still good. Yeah, still good.” Lilo says, “Ohana means family, family means nobody gets left behind, or forgotten.” I like this definition best, don’t you?


Christine Crosby

About the author

Christine is the co-founder and editorial director for GRAND Magazine. She is the grandmother of five and great-grandmom (aka Grandmere) to one. She makes her home in St. Petersburg, Florida.

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