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Growth is a process. We need a safe place of love, helpful information about ourselves, and time to practice and fail.-Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend

Lately, I have been asking myself about the role and importance of family. In part, because I am overly analytical, and in part, because my family has been making inquires about when I’ll start a family of my own.

My mother called my husband to wish him a happy Father’s Day this week, “in advance,” she said.

What Makes a Family?

The truth is, my husband I are a family in our own right, but most people, associate  the word ‘family’  with offspring. The common American definition of a family is a unit consisting of a parent, or parents and children.

Legally, America only recognizes a family by marriage, blood or adoption. This narrow definition leaves out many bonds of affection and trust.

Hence, there are impassioned political debates about who is legally “entitled” to be recognized as a family. Same-sex couplings figure prominently into this debate, as does reproductive technology, and the decision of single adults (both men and women) and same-sex couples to use assisted reproductive technology and adoption to build their families.

What is the role of the family?

I’ve often been told that love makes a family.People also told me that love makes a marriage. As a newlywed, I would say that yes, love is a key ingredient in marriage, but I find it more apt to say that marriages are ‘made’ by the three c’s: commitment, care and consideration.These are the cornerstones.

In my mind, the cornerstones of a family are the same. Families are about support, whether there are children involved or not.

Institutionally, I believe that families are an important because they mold children and help them develop into high-functioning and well-adjusted adults who can be productive members of society.

When people do not have the capacity to care for a child, the children will suffer and society will as well. 

This is why I think Americans were outraged by Nadya Denise Doud-Suleman aka Octomom and recently, the man in Tennessee who had 24 children by many different women.

What do I believe?

At the end of the day, I believe that families (by marriage, adoption, blood, or affection) should function as a place of grace. From the moment we are born till the moment we die, we are growing. Families are the place where adults and children alike should be nurtured and cared for in their growth. Ideally, they are the safe spaces where everyone can learn about their weaknesses and be supported in overcoming them.

Families provide identity and a sense of belonging. They should be the people we know we can rely on to celebrate with us and mourn with us as we go through life.

If families make life worth living, children make the future worth defending. Families, through its progeny, leave a legacy on earth of their values, outlook and temperament.

Healthy families start with responsible parenting and structures for supporting parents.

As individuals, I think it is important that:

  • People give due consideration to whether they really want to be parents;
  • People prepare themselves financially to provide for the basic needs of their children;
  • Parents prioritize the welfare of the child over their own self-interest;
  • Parents equip themselves (i.e. get over their own issues enough) to support a child’s mental, emotional and spiritual growth and well-being;
  • Parents develop a support system, a community if you will, of people who can support the parent in child rearing and reinforce the values they are trying to impart;and
  • Parents make time to pursue their personal interests, apart from their families, as long as it doesn’t impede upon the family’s welfare (e.g. gambling, drinking, work-aholism etc).

As society we pay a great deal of lip-service to the importance of healthy families, but we need to provide more tangible support, such as:

  • Providing accurate sex-education and affordable family planning to reduce the number of unplanned pregnancies;
  • Increasing the affordability of child-care services;
  • Improving the quality of our public educational system;
  • Increasing the amount of decent low-income housing;
  • Increasing the minimum-wage to a living wage; and
  • Making arrangements for paid parental leave and sick leave for all workers.

In short, I believe the family in America is the one thing that is over-politicized, and sadly, often under-prioritized.  Can we inverse these?