My Definition of Family

A couple weeks ago, a college student wrote me an e-mail. She was writing a paper on kids in military families, and she was looking for the perspective of the actual military member. She asked me a few questions, and I’ll probably address each of them in future posts. There was one, however, that really threw me for a loop. It was a very simple question with, what should be, a very simple answer. How do you define family?

When I looked at that question, it seemed like it would be easy to answer. Then, I started trying to put the words on paper, and I became stumped. My family is…….well, it’s my family! Since you can’t use the word that you’re defining in the definition that doesn’t work very well.

It seems very intuitive. You know in your heart what your family is. It doesn’t require words at all. That’s perfectly fine until someone asks you to put it into words. I did what I normally do in situations like this. I sat back and stared into space hoping that the idea fairy would come by and sprinkle some pixie dust on me. When that failed, I started to think instead.

How do you define family? The most obvious (and biological) answer is the group of people that you share genetic material with (plus your husband or wife). For me, that doesn’t really work though. I have blood relatives that I would hesitate to call family, and there are people that are not related to me at all that I would defend to the death. I decided that it takes more than just common ancestry to qualify as family.

Should I base it on whom I love? That’s closer, but it still doesn’t feel right. Different type of relationships warrant different types of love, and it would be unfair to compare them.

I decided that the common denominator for my family is the fact that I enjoy being around them. Whether we’re getting along or not, I want them in my life. Therefore, after much thought, I came up with my personal definition of family. My family is the group of people that I want by my side wherever I go.

This probably isn’t the standard definition, and you may have one that is entirely different. This was a very neat mental exercise though. Try it yourself and see if you come up with something unique. Maybe blood is the most important thing to you. Maybe your family includes 4 people and maybe it includes 100. Give it 5 minutes of your time, and see what you come up with. If you’re so inclined, feel free to leave it in the comments below. If you would rather keep it to yourself, that is alright too.

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