Family is a powerful value-word. It features in discussions about 'normal' and 'non-traditional' families—are they all equally 'family' and are they equal in every way? But it also features in church contexts: where we (over)load the spiritual family of the church with all sorts of expectations, measures and ideals. Inded the idea even spills over into corporate and nationalistic settings.
What happens with a lot of our discussion is that a series of words, often with several different meanings and overtones for the same word, all get blurred together. So that we have far too much fuzziness in our thinking about how the following are the same and different, or necessarily required by each other:
- Family—blood relations and natural children.
- Legal family—legally incorporating others into your family through marriage and adoption.
- Home—a group of people who accept, care and live together with a range of pledges of loyalty to each other and the permanency of that home.
- Legal significant other—be the person who has significant legal rights in relation to another.
- Marriage—union to express sexual love, start a family (both as a union and through having children), found a home and be the lifelong legal significant other.
But these aren't all the same, and don't necessarily all go together:
- The church is a metaphorical 'family' in a way that doesn't over-rule our blood relationships or potential sexual attractions.
- A spouse is not family in quite the same way that a brother is. How much more a mother-in-law.
- An adopted child is not family in quite the same way that either a spouse or a natural child is.
- An immediate blood family, or even a marriage union sadly doesn't always found a stable home.
- An adult child is not bound to the home of their birth family in quite the same way that the husband and wife are.
- Different cultures and individual families include a smaller or larger circle of blood relatives into their home.
- A marriage might not always successful in giving birth to children.
- I might choose to make someone other than my blood relatives or spouse my significant other for all sorts of various reasons.
But what is striking is that 'family' and 'marriage' carries with it an expectation of permanence and obligation on some level. A very serious act of 'disowning' or 'divorcing' needs to be done to completely break a family or marriage bond in a way that few other social ties require.