What Does ‘Family’ Look Like?

by Rita Brhel on January 11, 2010

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What is a family? It used to be that when you looked up “family” in the dictionary, it said something to the effect of “a group of people living together in the same house consisting of a married mother and father and their children.” This is an inadequate description of today’s family, which can include almost any combination of individuals whether they live under one roof or not, or are even related by blood.

One thing should have remained the same through the years, though: that a family consists of a group of people who have a close attachment bond with one another. But, we know that’s not always the case. Some families in our society really struggle with the concept of attachment. Even if not overt abuse, there are parents and children who feel divided from one another – it’s hard to put into words the dangers of this disconnection, but we all inherently understand why it’s so important to maintain our attachment bonds with our children and spouses. That’s why Attachment Parenting International exists – to bring families back to their roots, to the basis of what really makes a family a family: not blood, not obligation, but a shared close emotional connection with each other. And how do we get there? Through the Eight Principles of Parenting, of course.

But, what does it look like when we get there – to that point when a family becomes an attached family? How do we illustrate to families what we mean when we say “connected”? What picture do you have in mind when you think of “family”?

I think of my family – my husband and I, and our two children – snuggled together with the cat on the couch for a movie night. I think of my husband and I making plans for our next project, with our children playing with puzzles at our feet and chiming in here and there with their thoughts. I think of my husband, me, and our children joining my parents, and my sisters, brother, brother-in-law, and nephew for a holiday dinner or July 4th fireworks show.

For some, the word “family” doesn’t conjure images of attachment but of arguments and disconnection. When they’re learning about attachment, they have to re-learn their entire way of thinking about family. It can seem almost impossible to them – certainly not natural – that family members, particularly parents and children, can live in harmony even when in conflict. A friend of mine grew up in a family where the parents fought all the time and children were taught to ignore their strong feelings of anger and sadness toward the situation. What he pictures when he thinks of “family” is a lonely, misunderstood boy who turns to addictions in order to deal with the emotions he was taught that were wrong to feel. And the really, really sad part is, even though he understands this isn’t what being in a family is supposed to feel like, it’s all that he knows and exactly what he defaults to in his own family.

So, to this man, what photo would help him to understand what “family” should look like? New York Times’ Lens blog recently collected 400 photos from its readers, 282 of which were selected that the editors truly feel define “family” – intergenerational interaction and an impossible-to-miss affection for one another – and posted them here: http://lens.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/12/24/readers-5/.

Some of my favorites:

  • Remi Prebet’s photo of a mother baking cookies with her children (naturally, as editor of The Attached Family magazine, this photo brings to mind the Summer 2009 “Feeding Our Children” issue)
  • Bob Kerila’s photo of hands from a father and baby
  • Michael Gold’s sit-down family dinner (hmmm, another reminder of the Summer 2009 The Attached Family magazine)
  • Sarah Abraham Mendozza’s mother-daughter picnic
  • Jan Richards’ grandmother and grandfather sandwiching their grand-daughter.

What does “family” look like for you? Send in your photos to apispeaks [AT] attachmentparenting [DOT] org for an exclusive AP showcase on API Speaks.

This week on TheAttachedFamily.com:

  • Attachment by Accident: One Family’s Journey in Alternative Parenting – When Joe Diomede, author of Cycles of a Traveler and owner of an Ireland bicycle shop, and his wife Angie became parents, a whole new world was opened up. They had read books and talked to friends as everyone does, but in the same way that you cannot learn what a good Indian curry really tastes like until you experience it for yourself, being a parent and all that that entails was still only conceptual until the day their son arrived.
  • Playgroup Altercation, Part 1: Your Child is the Hitter – Judy Arnall, author of Discipline without Distress and Canadian parenting educator, brings us six steps any parent can do when their child hits another parent’s child.

For members only: Find the username and password to access these articles in your latest issue of the Parent Compass e-newsletter, the summer issue of The Attached Family magazine, or by contacting memberships [AT] attachmentparenting [DOT] org. Ready to join? Go to www.attachmentparenting.org and take advantage of API’s current membership promotion with Mothering magazine.

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Rita Brhel (183 Posts)

Rita Brhel, BS, CLC, API Leader, lives with her family near Hastings, NE, USA, where she works as a WIC Breastfeeding Counselor. She also writes for Mothering and La Leche League's New Beginnings.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

MUITESA ZAINA February 21, 2014 at 5:46 pm

I need nice family like other people


MUITESA ZAINA February 21, 2014 at 5:49 pm

I pray to god so that even my family can be good and i pray that god shud be on our side in everything we do with my family members


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