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What makes a family?

2010

I just finished watching the movie, What Makes a Family. It was a great movie about a gay couple, and their daughter - showing us that family doesn't have to include a bloodline. It got me thinking about the families we work with, in the CYC field. What does your program do to include all types of families (step families, gay parents etc.) For example during Father's Day what do you do with a child, that doesn't have a dad, and may have two moms? Do you include materials in your program to represent different families. (e.g. What type of families are represented in the book that you have?) Working with families, we cannot allow our own bias and opinion to affect the way we work with them. If you have a strong belief on divorce and gay couples, how do allow this not to affect the families that you may come in to contact with
 
Carrie McDermott
BC, Canada
...

This topic really sparked my interest and I enjoyed reading other people's responses. It's really uplifting to hear how open minded and multicultural workers and programs are.

On the topic of making gifts on Mother's Day and Father's Day it is sweet to see how children do regard other guardians are deservant of these gifts. But I think it would also be beneficial to promote the notion of making multiples! For example on Mother's Day I bought flowers for three mothers I admire, though they are not my own. It is important to show our appreciation to motherhood in general, as I'm sure all children and adults can recognize someone elses mother as wonderful. Of course the same goes for fathers and how I feel we should praise more than just our own. This can be beneficial in a case where a child does not have a biological mother or father, but definitely sees another person in their lives as family. Families are made up of so much more than direct relatives!
 
Emily Vieira
BC, Canada
...
 
Dear everyone,
 
Below is an excerpt from something I wrote some years ago about families but it may be of interest,f even if it has only some residual historic interest. Previous postings on this thread may have covered all the things I mention. If so I do apologise.
 
Best wishes,
Charles Sharpe
__
 
To borrow a phrase of D.W. Winnicott, 'family is where we start from'. The family kept us alive when we could not help ourselves. This is a lengthy period which can extend from birth to well into our late teens and beyond. As we grow older it is our family that contains us while we seek our own identity and look for our place in the world.
 
Even when we have left home it is often to the family that we look for emotional and practical support. If we start our own families, it is frequently our own parenting figures' child nurturing methods which we will use to rear our own children. It is from our parents that we will frequently seek support and advice as we encounter the various difficulties that inevitably arise in our lives as we look after our own children.
 
Eventually roles may turn full circle and it may be us who will look after those in our families who cared for us when we were young.
 
But what is a family? Socially and politically this question has become increasingly contentious. The structure of the typical family is less easy to define. As we know from our own multi-cultural society, from what we have experienced in our personal history, from what we read and see in the media, and of course from our holidays abroad, the idea of family can mean different things not only to different cultural groups, but also to each of us as individuals. We may for instance generalise that in one culture the nuclear family is largely predominant while in another culture the extended family may assume greater significance. Yet even within specific cultures individual families are unique and there are no hard and fast stereotypes.
 
There may be more general agreement about what it is - to use another Winnicottian phrase - a 'good enough' family provides. In what follows I have started to catalogue this provision. It is not an exhaustive catalogue.
I am sure you can add to it. We are also aware from our own personal experiences, and from our work with young people who have been separated from their families, that families are not perfect. Some families are not 'good enough' and in our work we are all too familiar with the effect this has on the young people we care for, just as we are aware of how less welcome aspects in our own families may have been unhelpful to us during our own upbringing.
 
Some things a good enough family provides.
 
It provides children with at least one consistent, firm, caring relationship - usually but not always the relationship between mother and infant which will last at least throughout the early years of the child's life.
 
It provides the mother or primary parenting figure and child with some form of support to bring up her children.
 
It provides, first of all, parenting adults, and then children with a secure environment, in which they have a clear identity and a role to play.
 
It provides good role models for children to imitate.
 
It provides all its members with love, praise and warmth.
 
It provides a consistency of care giving.
 
It provides a consistency in attitude toward, and dealing with children.
 
It ensures that a child's wants and needs are responded to on a sensible basis.
 
It offers an environment with sufficient stimuli and resources to encourage exploration, discovery and creativity.
 
It presents an emotional and physical space where children and parenting figures can play and explore.
 
It provides an emotional and social environment in which children can learn how to behave in a socially acceptable way.
 
In providing at various and appropriate times the qualities listed here, the family ensures that children are nurtured to the extent that they have an opportunity to enjoy childhood and to become reasonably healthy adults. In achieving these things it also provides for the future generations of the family and the community. If we accept this then it is chastening to think of the family experiences of many of the young people we look after and it defines to the enormity of our task in compensating them for what they have missed.
 
Charles Sharpe
2004
...

Hello, my family is composed of myself, my partner and daughter. The 3 three of us all live together and we all have our basic needs met. To me, this is a family. Of course, I also have family in other parts of the country, which by definition would be my extended family. I used to think my "partners in crime" were my family. Family is like religion, so many types of families, just like so many religions. Who's to say what is a family? I almost forgot, the government reassures me with a list of definitions of what constitutes a family when it comes tax time.
 
Just some random thoughts:)
 
Dean
...

I believe that family is defined only by the person using the word. For myself family is the person I would want to turn to first in a moment of crisis.

Lina Thompson
...
 
Hello all,
 
I have been living in BC now for about 3 years. I moved here with a group of 5 people. We are all originally from Ontario, and all of our "families" live there. We became closer than I feel I have ever been with my actual family.

When you only have each other in a very unfamiliar place you rely on each other like you would your family. Holidays would come along, and all of us family-less people got together and shared family time together to soften the blow. Now, going back to Ontario or being with my "real" family, I find myself missing my BC family, the family that held me together during my times of need, lend a hand for support and who would do anything for me.

That is my family. I love them.
 
Leah Turk
...
 
Family can vary from person to person and it mainly depends on who one genuinely cares about, treasures your time with, loves, can trust, feels most comfortable with and who you're most likely to go out of your way to help.
_______

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