What shape is your family?

That is my family in the picture. Or most of them. The picture was taken after a fantastic family weekend to celebrate my mother’s 70th this summer. 

I’m showing you because just this week a survey shows that British families are no longer ma, pa and the 2.4 weans. 

No shit Sherlock. 

This group that is my family contains divorcees, cohabitees, married couples, couples together but not cohabiting, singles, widows, first marriages, second marriages, civil partnerships, donor insemination kids, out of wedlock kids, siblings, half siblings, step relations and probably a few others I can’t think of. 

The easier bit is to define what this family does. It supports each other, it looks after its children and other folk who need some TLC, it tolerates each other’s funny little ways and it understands that, when the chips are down, family will be there.

However, I have long held the view that the rest of the world hasn’t quite caught up with what my version of family really means. 

  • I have frequently been irritated by the fact that my family doesn’t fit neatly into the 2 + 2 “traditional” model. (Family ticket for only four people?)
  • I have become weary of explaining that, yes, there are three different surnames in our five-person family. So what?
  • My husband has been asked on more than one occasion how he can bring up another man’s children. 
  • Eyebrows are still raised that he takes equal responsibility for childcare. 
  • In some circles working mothers are still considered to be a bad thing, or, at best, a necessary evil. Same goes for single parents, like they are somehow delinquent.

So it’s good news that research from a new think tank backs up what many of us have known for a long time. There is no one-size-fits-all family, and, more importantly, neither should there be.

The Centre for the Modern Family, which is funded by Scottish Widows, says only 16 per cent of people consider they are in a “traditional” family, which isn’t very many. 

It also found that almost a quarter do not believe their family is valued by society with, 18 per cent saying they feel judged because of their family set up.

One of the Centre’s experts Professor Tanya Byron, of The House of Tiny Tearaways fame,  said: “Family is the spine of society. Everyone comes from a family, everyone has an opinion on family, and without this vital support network many of us would simply break.

“At a time of continued social change and as the financial squeeze on families gets even tighter, The Centre for the Modern Family aims to improve understanding, and ultimately strengthen families – in all their varied forms – across the country.”

Here are some interesting facts about today’s British family:
84 % of families define themselves as not being traditional
25% of couples are childless 
3% of the population define themselves as being part of a multi-generational household 
25% of people over 60 live alone with no family nearby 
20% of the population now lives alone 
50% of the population believes that society has an outdated view of the family 
57% of people believe that a couple with children do not have to be married to be a proper family 
20% of people feel that their family does not give them enough personal space 
22% of people do not feel their family type is valued by society 
59% of people see gay couples as a family 
77% see single parents as a family 
75% of people say they are religious but only 40% say this impacts upon their way of life or their family life

So, what kind of family have you got? Are you judged or valued because of it? 

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  1. Anonymous says

    I am proud and will always be proud to bring up the boys. All three are children and consequently blameless, innocent, wonderful and needing care and love. It is an honour and I see myself as a lucky man. Anyone who thinks different is entitled to their opinion, but it is wrong and they misunderstand what it is to be a parent. The word “step” in front of dad means nothing more to me than I was unlucky enough to come into their lives later. There, said it. Good stuff Ellen. PoN

  2. says

    Over time my very traditional family has become rather odd, due to deaths and the acquisition of extended step-siblings-in-law. Lots of my family have mental problems (acquired family that is) which makes our get-togethers somewhat stressful, but we try to make it work.
    Now what I consider to be my family in the old-fashioned sense of the word are the 2 friends and their families who live local to me and are my rock. They are always there for me and for my kids – in reality they are my 'family'. They would support me in a way my blood relatives never would

  3. says

    Oh, nice post! I've been thinking about this since my nephew was born – he'll just have all these aunties and uncles (loads of them!) and grandparents without thinking about which are step- and which are not, they are just all people who love him. And my husband's godchildren (and their parents) are very definitely part of our family.

    I really like Anne Tyler's novel Back When We Were Grown-Ups: it describes a lovely big complicated family which is really rich in relationships – it also shows that it's not always the closest biological ties that are the closest bonds, far from it.

  4. says

    Blur of Woodsmoke, I haven't read that book, I must look it out. I agree, I reckon the more people a child has on their “team” the better, doesn't matter really how they got there.

  5. says

    The impact of changes in Britain really hit home to me when I considered a house-share 30 years ago: 6 girls in a house in their early 20s. Only one of them – me – has had her own children. One married and eventually adopted, one is widowed with step-children, two are in child-free marriages and one is single. Oh and I'm now separated and living in Ireland….

  6. says

    I believe a 'gentleman's family' is maw, paw a laddie and a lassie. I narrowly miss being a gent because my second child decided rather inconveniently to be female like her sister. However my wife and I now seek respectability by perhaps adopting 0.4 of a child and buying a cheese plant and a fondue set.

  7. says

    A family is what you make it! I have a step-son, 2 of my children have a step-mum and a step-dad, my youngest child has 2 half brothers and a half sister but at the end of the day all that matters is that we are all here to love & support each other.
    My extended family treat all 4 children the same regardless of their parentage & this makes me happy.

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