The Purpose of “Family”

Wendy Sage-Hayward
Wendy Sage-Hayward

What is the purpose of family? It sounds like a funny question given “family” is so fundamental to the fabric of our society and to our very being. However, it may be so fundamental that it has become invisible to us. We may have lost sight of the real purpose of family as we pursue our individual goals and interests.

This time of year is a perfect time to reconnect with the real purpose or “task” of family. The first place to start is with the definition of family. My experience with families in business is that the shape of a family changes over time as newcomers enter, and sometimes, exit the scene. On occasion we need to rejig our concept of family to encompass more than just the traditional form (e.g., one dictionary definition defined family as “a group consisting of parents and children living together in a household”). An example of a more modern family business consists of two parents who have separated from each other and found new partners. Some of the children from the marriage are married, some are co-habiting, and others choose to remain single but decide to have children. This modern family goes on holidays together but may still hold ownership meetings with the original nuclear family (Mom, Dad, and 4 Children). The separated couple still work side by side in the office together with one of their new partners. All is not smooth and simple, but the vision of family is clear and purposeful.

So if we can wrap our mind around what we mean by family – in that it can be defined in a wide ranging and diverse form – then what is the “task” of family? This question would likely receive different responses depending on your world view. Here is one set of thoughts on the purpose of family….

  • To create and raise the next generation
  • To provide care and safety
  • To offer affiliation and a sense of belonging
  • To give an abundance of acceptance and love despite the warts (which we all have!) of each individual member
  • To instill respect for social/cultural norms as well as the family’s unique values, norms, and beliefs
  • To teach and guide
  • To be a support system when in need and through life’s ups and downs
  • To provide life-long relationships

How would your definition vary from the above? If you were going to grade your family on how well it accomplishes its tasks, how would your family report card look? Where would you need to do some remedial work to bring up your grades?

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