What Makes a Family?

Does perfection exist among humans? No, it doesn’t. Yet, people all over the world strive for this illusion of perfection, paving the way for cosmetic giants, surgical procedures, and glossy magazines to take advantage of this and create the model for it. This yearning for perfection doesn’t stop with one’s own physical appearance; people still want something outside of themselves- the perfect family. The majority of people picture the perfect family as a married heterosexual couple with their children- the epitome of the biogenetic model. This ideal model is a far-fetched cry from the reality we live in today where each family is a beautifully unique blend.

There is no guide that constitutes the ideal family. The biogenetic model might have been most commonly seen in the 1950s in America, yet nowadays it is rapidly becoming a minority. With nuclear family structures declining, this is an obvious sign that the times are changing. Nowadays, families are made up of people from all walks of life. It is no longer strange to come across families made up of two individuals of the same sex, step-parents, divorced parents, single parents, foster parents, or adoptive parents. Families like these are no longer seen by the majority as strange, but rather as another aspect of changing times.

Although “non-nuclear” families might seem radically different from the ones who follow the biogenetic model, they function just like any other family. People are people no matter what their families are made up of; we all still suffer from painful situations, and enjoy the highs of life. Whether gay or straight, single or married, families still have to get up in the morning, get children ready for school, go to work, make dinner, etc.

Two texts titled “Kinship and Gender” by Linda Stone and “Broken Links, Enduring Ties” by Linda J. Seligmann sum up the idea that family is not necessarily formed by genetics, or defined by a standard model, but rather by the rare interpersonal connections with other human beings that make families more than just a group of acquaintances. Family or the people considered kin are by no means limited to the people sharing your genetic code; it is with whom you share values, customs, and love with. Each family sets its own way of living and brings me to another point, how every family shares a form of structural characteristics embedded in them.

Although structure may not be blindingly visible at first sight in families, nonetheless it exists. This structure is typically seen among family members and their rank within the group. While many people may think the male is always the dominant figure in a family’s structure that is not always the case. For example, in a particular yet unnamed African tribe, all of the wives in a polygamous marriage would work together to ease the weight of chores, children, or any tasks. In some cultures, the brother had to rely on his sister to marry and claim her children as part of his lineage. These two cases showcase that women are not only vital to having a thriving household, but they assume a high role in the way their family is structured.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, there are still multiple cultures where the structure places the male as the alpha with the remaining family members at a ‘lower’ rank. The male would be in charge of decision making and assume the role of the family leader. This is a popular form of family structure in Hispanic cultures like my own. My family is Mexican, and although in my household we try to keep things equal between us all, if there is a big decision to be made, or rules are applied, it is usually my father who will be the one with the final say.

In a book titled “Broken Links, Enduring Ties” by Linda J. Seligman, the topic of the biogenetic model is touched upon with multiple views regarding its validity. The author expresses that people are exerting their agency, both parents and adoptees and are changing family structures. Seligman also points out that twenty percent of families actually follow the biogenetic model, or the norm for society. She feels that the biogenetic model is a relevant force in society, but feels that its foundation is starting to crack. This crack in its foundation leads to change in the future for families, and shows that we are on a trajectory away from this model.

Why is the ‘it’ model for a family changing? Simple, because times are changing. At the end of the day, people want to have a family. Some are unable to conceive a child of their own in a relationship, and therefore seek out a wonderful alternative to give their love and attention to a child that is not their own through adoption. Other families that are the same sex want a child and well, since biology cannot provide that, either a surrogate, a donor, or an adoption agency can help grant their wish. It seems that as time goes on, people are becoming more accepting of the variety that exists in the world, whether it is with race, ethnicity, or families. What it comes down to is parents challenging the norms that society has placed upon them.

Although the chances of running into a nuclear family are much rarer than they used to be, the diversity of family that replaces them is definitely a sign times are changing. There is no longer a large social stigma that comes along with a family made up of different individuals. In the real world, people can and do have adopted children, two same sex parents, foster kids, or anything in between and that factor does not make them any less of a family than a heterosexual couple with their biological children. Family isn’t necessarily whose DNA you share; it is who you manage to form intimate bonds with. People should stop aiming to obtain the perfect ‘ideal’ family, because it does not exist. Once thought cookie-cutter perfection is now replaced with families from all walks of life, more reflecting of the amazing world we live in today.

by Ana Sanchez

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