Updated: Jun 20, 2019
"A family is a group of people connected through common ancestry", may be a straight forward answer to the question posed in the title. Sure, that's correct but the point of this article is not to find a definition or a correct answer. It is more of an analysis of what family does to you, what it is there for and what obligations you have towards the members of your family (if any).
The meaning of family is different in every culture of course but one thing seems to be the same for all: Family is a structure of security and support. If you go on to think about this, it also means there is a certain commitment and expectations from one another in order to keep up this safe and supportive structure. Every family is complicated, however, for the one reason that it is put together from a number of individual humans, all with their own mind and emotions. In the most homogenous family, when it comes to cultural background, things will therefore not always be harmonious.
What then, can we expect from a family that has multiple cultural elements? It makes sense that this would add to complications when some of the bases of family life get put into question. What sort of wedding ceremony will there be? Will the child be baptised? Will it have a French or Chinese name? If the body of recently deceased grandma is cremated, based on her Christian husbands wishes, she will not be able to be buried at the Jewish cemetery that the rest of her family is buried at. And what language will be spoken at the funeral, since she will be buried in Spain, married to a Vietnamese man with German speaking children?
These type of families are more and more sprouting from the seeds sewn by globalisation and a deeper understanding of self, the other and our families, begins to be cultivated. Why should this inevitably happen? A reason for this could be that we are, more than ever, living individualistic life styles, uprooted from the safety net of an always familiar environment, continuously faced with change and novelty and ultimately, with a massive amount of confusion. This did not exist when the boundaries of your home were clear, both geographically and in terms of how your life will be structured. Then again, we may not develop these attributes at all and rather choose to indulge in our individualism turn our backs to our families, when it gets uncomfortable.
Where is that structure of security and support of family, when you don't live in the same countries, may not speak the same language in your day to day life, celebrate different types of holidays, have different views of the world, politics, education, health care....you name it. How can a family come together under such circumstances and what is it that we can still give each other?
What I have understood for myself is that family is not just about support and safety. In fact, all too often, particularly in multi-cultural families and families that live far from each other, we face stronger resistance against our beliefs, endeavours and choices for love than from our friends and acquaintances. As well as receiving love, support and safety, we are made uncomfortable, imperfect and inadequate by our closest family. This is because as family we can allow ourselves to be honest. It is also because as family we truly care and want the best for each other, and therefore feel the need to express the things we don't agree with. It is often met with disappointment, anger and even complete detachment from your family in order to not be faced with the discomfort we are being exposed to.
Here is where I conclude that family with its love, support and security is not just about feeling comfortable. It is about being able to be faced with uncomfortable truths about ourselves in a safe and loving environment, and have the chance to see them, work on them, grow and become better versions of ourselves.