How “family” has changed

When we think of the word “family”, we tend to relate it to our grandparents, parents, siblings, cousins, and so on. In the future, most of us would like to make our own little families who resemble us. In elementary school, there’s always that assignment where we make our family trees. There’s a drawing from grandma and grandpa connecting to mom and dad and to all of your brothers and sisters. But what really makes a family? Is it the people who you share blood with or is it the close relationship of the people you interact with?

The concept of “family” has changed over the years. Family making used to be thought of as a man and a woman having biological children together. What about the others? Does that mean orphans, adoptees, same-sex couples, etc, can’t have or be a family? Family making has expanded its resources so that everyone has the ability to become a family. However, society has not yet changed their views on family. They still follow the biogenetic model. That is the formation of a family through biology. Even though a lot of families are made that way, there are also other ways that people should take into consideration when it comes to family making.

With the family tree assignment, it would be quite awkward for adopted children to map their families. There will be questions of who to put on there. If the biogenetic model is still being followed, they would put no one but themselves because it’s possible that they may not know any of their biological family. They should be able to take this assignment as acknowledgement of their own unique family, even if it’s not the traditional biological family being created.

Adoption has created a new way for families to be made. However, they still struggle to be judged as a real “family”. When we see a little Asian girl, we automatically think her parents are Asian and she is from an Asian family. Why don’t we ever think she can be adopted and she knows nothing about her ethnicity? It’s because we still follow the biogenetic model. We assume that her biological mother gave birth to her and continued to raise her. What we don’t know that it is totally the opposite of our assumptions. In “Broken Links, Enduring Ties”, Linda J. Seligmann even expresses that many adopting parents adopt children who are closely similar to them just to conform to the biogenetic model. Because their children look more like them, they wouldn’t have to go through those struggles of identity crisis as much.

As adoption makes a new path for family making, the question of what really makes a family emerges. Many people use blood relationship as a standard for family. However, the term family has expanded through relationships between one another. Friendships that have been growing strong through many years are considered family for some people. “Brother from another mother” is the phrase to describe this kind of family relationship. Even though they are not biologically related in any way, because they have a special relationship with each other, they consider themselves brothers or sisters. Even pets are increasingly being considered as family members. We love and care for our pets so much, maybe even more than our siblings. That special relationship between human and animal can even make them apart of the family as well.

Family relationships, outside blood groups, have widened the standard of what makes a family. As mentioned above, friendships have made it possible for someone outside the blood line to be considered family. In “Busier than Ever” Charles N. Darrah writes about these two families who “adopted” each other. The Flahertys take their child for the Brodys to take care of while the Flahertys are working. Because they constantly spend their time together with the Flahertys, the Brodys just melted into the Flaherty’s family line. Those two families are not even related biologically but because of their relationship, they trust each other and consider each other family.

Taking these relationships into consideration, let’s go back and apply them to the adoption. A mom can still be a mom even if she didn’t give birth to her child. Not being able to hold a child in her body for nine months doesn’t make her less of a mom. A dad can still be a dad even if his child didn’t come from his sperm. A child can still be the child of two people, or one, even if they didn’t directly come from them. It is the struggle, love, care, and relationship they have with each other that makes them as close as a real family. So even if they aren’t biologically related to each other, they still consider themselves as their own families through their relationship they have.

Going back to the family tree situation, from a biological view, there’s not going to be a lot of people on an adopted child’s family tree. However, that child can put their adopted parents because of their mother/father relationship they have built up together. There can be their best friend, mom’s coworker, dad’s brother; the list is endless. Of course, this can be applied to everyone else as well. Family is not only defined as the biologically connection between each other. Family has erupted into a growing process of our relationships, who we consider as family and who we don’t.

by Chong Vang



Seligmann, Linda J. Broken Links, Enduring Ties: American Adoption Across Race, Class, and Nation, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2013. Print

Darrah, Charles N., James M. Freeman, and J.A. English-Luech, Busier than Ever!: Why American Families Can’t Slow Down. Stanford, CA: Stanford UP, 2007. Print

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