The Roman Catholic Church has been going through a review of The Family and Marriage which culminates in a synod (meeting) this week. (See the BBC Article here). To mark this important debate the radio programme Beyond Belief produced a discussion about the history and nature of the family.
For one reason or another, be it bereavement or divorce, parents sometimes end up raising their children on their own. According to gingerbread.org.uk there are about two million single parent families in the UK. Contrary to popular perceptions only about 2 percent are teenagers. Whilst only about 9 percent of single parent families are headed by the father.
This refers to the members of a family on the fringes of the nuclear family. This includes the obvious candidates such as Grandparents, Aunts and Uncles, Cousins and Nephews. There has been a trend over the past century for couples, when they marry to be less attached to their extended family and families now live further apart than they once did. However extended families often provide care and support to the most vulnerable of families; You can find out about the work of one charity that supports grandparent carers here. This care could be needed whilst parents work, due to bereavement or separation and in the most extreme of cases, because of parents losing the right to care for their own children through drug or alcohol abuse or imprisonment.
This is your “traditional” family and matches the definition above; A mother, father and children living together as a family unit. Many Christians argue that this is how God intended the family to be. Roman Catholics would go as far as to argue that this is the Natural Law. They might look to the bible as evidence where Adam and Eve are declared to be One Flesh in Genesis chapter 1. Furthermore one of the decalouge (link) commands that children should honour your Father and Mother and that marriage is the environment in which this can happen. Finally the marriage ceremony itself declares would say that “it is given as the foundation of family life in which children are [born and] nurtured and in which each member of the family,in good times and in bad, may find strength, companionship and comfort, and grow to maturity in love”.
With a rise in the number of people getting divorced has come a rise in the number of reconstituted families; where two sets of children become one family when divorced parents marry each other.
As societies attitude towards marriage have changed and the need to be married has diminished more and more couples cohabit - live together as a couple but without being married. Many of these couples inevitably have children. They might not agree with the religious or social reasons for marriage or simply do not feel the need to marry.
Many married or cohabiting couples would still suggest that they are a family - just one without children. Does this still count a family? Certainly it is a long way from our first definition. What do you think?
Below is a little infographic created by me to sum up this post - The data at the bottom is from this PDF from the Office of National Statistics.
You will also find below it a fantastic video from MrMcMillanREvis - a YouTube Channel with great summaries of learning.