Families – Now you can choose for yourself!

I feel bad for people who don’t ‘get on’ with their families. They’re missing out. Mine are great, if a little eccentric. They have their flaws and I have mine and a big part of growing up is to sit back and go ‘huh, so I guess my parents can’t solve every problem I have, they’re just human’. Some of my friends at University used to believe they were figments of my imagination, the stories I told were so ludicrous.

Of course if you sincerely don’t like them then so be it, I have absolutely no time for people who say things like ‘oh I have to love them because we’re related’ … why exactly? What is about the few extra genes you share (in comparison with, for example, the post man) that insists that you love them dearly? Forget it, that’s some greetings card from the 1930’s with Mom and Dad and 2.4 kids.

I’ve been thinking about the family a lot recently. Not for any particular reason, just lots of questions on my mind. Before we get to that, I’ve done some research and had a few conversations with people.

I came across an article which looked at the role of the family in helping people recover from eating disorders. Patients were four times less likely to relapse if put in family therapy, experiencing their recovery as a family. Recovery time was also cut up to 43% in the group attending family treatment.

Families at the early stages have such a huge impact on us as a person, for the rest of our lives, they can make or break someone. There’s even been some speculation, put before a Common’s Committee this year, that dysfunctional families, broken families, can actually slow down or interrupt a child’s normal brain growth.

I had a Twitter conversation with some friends and colleagues looking at what the family was, and whether it was a good thing or not. Not unsurprisingly the consensus that good families (unlike the ones included in the evidence submitted to the Committee above) were good things. Surprise!

So, some questions…

  1. First and foremost, what is the family? What constitutes it, is there a criteria?
  2. Are families really that good? They can generate the most well adjusted, supported, happy individuals. Or they can prolong the vicious circle of under education, poverty, disadvantage and criminality through the generations.
  3. If families are a good thing, should we be encouraging them to stay that way? For more families to become a more obvious and successful unit of society?

So, now an attept at some answers…

  1. Desmond Tutu said “You don’t choose your family. They are God’s gift to you, as you are to them.”  … Sorry Archbishop you’re wrong. I cannot abide by the idea that this unit that has so much power over you, is out of your control. How dare anyone tell me who I can and can’t include in my closest circle of people. This leads on to something I’ve alluded to before. Why are your genetics so important? I didn’t choose my genes, I didn’t have a say on who I was born to, which siblings I had or who my grandparents were. Why the hell not? I am a human being, I have free will, I refuse to allow tiny particles of nucleic acid control this, one of the most important aspects of my life. I see no reason as to why we can’t add to, or subtract from, this unit, the family. It should be the individual and the people around them who make this decision, ‘we are going to be a family’, your genes can’t stop you and the state shouldn’t try, god help it if it tries to tell me who I can and can’t have in my family. Let’s go further there should be no regulation on the number, composition or nature of the inter-relationships of a family, that is senseless.
  2. I’m going to say yes. Families are there for you, they are part of your support mechanism, they are your ‘home base’ … the place you can feel safe. They are a key part of your identity. Babies learn ‘who they are’ by asking questions about themselves and the world around them, it’s part of our learning process, we begin to build up a picture of our reality and our place in it. We couldn’t do this without our families. This is confined to good families only. Bad families pervert this process, painting over the blank canvas of a child’s psyche with neglect and a doomed future.
  3. We enter some dangerous territory now. If we’re going to avoid regulating our new social unit, the family you choose, then are we going to define what makes them good? Some sort of test? Immediately I’d say no, but it would be a means to an end. If we had some way of telling if a family, either chosen or not, was beneficial why not reward them for this? We could incentivise people to be better family members, or induce more people to try and join them.

This is pretty current stuff, the Tories at their Party Conference have announced plans that they plan to cut child benefits to families with big families who live off the welfare state. They indicate it’s a matter of choice to have lots of children and the tax payer shouldn’t subsidise that. I have mixed feelings about this, my inner libertarian jumps for joy at the promotion of individual responsibility but, all in all, I think it’s a mistake. In fact, if anything, we should be spending more money, on the children and per child, in families living on benefits. We just shouldn’t give the money to the parents. We should fund more social workers or better after school clubs, in fact just better schools, things we know can help to break that vicious circle.

Edna Buchanan gave that much used quote “Friends are the family you choose for yourself”. She’s right, we’re human beings and we should be allowed to make our own decisions. I see no logical reason why we shouldn’t be able to decide who constitutes our family, found a beneficial and loving family, and be rewarded for that.

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