Show me someone who isn’t family.
Ram Dass, spiritual teacher and psychologist
Every year on 15th May the United Nations leads celebrations for the International Day of Families. The UN recognises the family as the basic unit of society around the world, in all its diverse shapes and sizes.
What does family mean to you?
‘Family’ may mean the people you are related to by blood, marriage or adoption. It may be any combination of orientation and role: parent, children, grandparent, sibling. Then there is what Dr Paul R. Amato calls ‘family-of -choice’ – including cohabiting partners, close friends.
However ‘family’ is defined, a family can be together or apart. Families can live in the same home, or they may be separated across cities, or divided by international borders. A family can have 'overlapping networks that extend across multiple households' (Amato).
This year, the COVID-19 pandemic has drawn families together and kept them apart. ‘Household’ takes on a new significance, maybe even redefining who your family is right now as your ‘pod’ becomes those you happen to co-habit with.
Beware of the ‘imagined’ family
The ‘imagined’ family is a phrase used in a recent Psychology Today article to refer to the perfect pod – the one of whatever shape and size that we see in pictures on social media, coping wonderfully with the pressures of lockdown. Of course, we know in reality this family doesn’t exist. Just as there are many variations of a family, so there are a diverse range of relationships within each one.
Educators are all too aware that there are children navigating lockdown in families that are under extreme pressure: perhaps the child is the carer, or perhaps their family is chaotic, disconnected, or dangerous. The isolation we are living in only serves to emphasise the difference of experiences and care.
Nurturing families under pressure
As it prepares to celebrate 2020 International Day of Families online rather than with physical events, the UN states that: 'It is the families who bear the brunt of the crisis, sheltering their members from harm, caring for out of school children and at the same time continuing their work responsibilities.'
There is no doubt that families around the world are under pressure. If you look for advice on how to nurture your family during challenge, you find it is the basic needs that are key: sleep, nutrition, exercise, sustaining relationships (whether within your household or remotely via technology), and keeping a routine (Psychology Today and Mental Health Foundation). If there are children in the family unit, then Paul Ramchandani, Lego Professor of Play at the University of Cambridge, would probably add ‘play’ to that list. More specifically, playing with children: 'children will learn and enjoy different things from different kinds of play, and taking time to play with your children, getting stuck in, is the most important thing.'
International Day of Families this year gives us a reason to pause, to shine a light on families, to acknowledge their flaws, to be aware of the assumptions we might make, to recognise the loneliness that can come from within a family and for those without family, and to celebrate whatever family means to us, together or apart.
Edited by Jules