“For better and for worse, family relationships play a central role in shaping an individual’s wellbeing across their life course.”
Merz, Consedine, Schulze, & Schuengel, 2009
If we examine human society around us in all its diversity, we can glean that one institution is so common as to be universal. From the humans living in the most primitive jungle bands in the wilds of New Guinea to those dwelling in the most modern societies in New York or Hong Kong, the family is a constant. Its scope and the definition of membership may vary, yet at its heart, the family consists of genetically related kin. If we look back through our history, we see that the family remains central to human life be at the dawn of time when humans lived in small bands of hunters and gatherers or in the present day when we live in metropolises. Why does this institution exist everywhere humans do? It exists as it is an effective means of achieving successful reproduction.
What do we mean by family? The definition of a family as it exists in English has several more or less expansive meanings ranging from the narrow interpretation of you and your children to the whole of the human race. For example, the Oxford Dictionary defines family as being:
1. ‘A group consisting of two parents and their children living together as a single unit’ and
2. As ‘a group of people related by blood or marriage’.
Cambridge Dictionary provides a definition that vaguely states that a family is a ‘group of people related to each other’. While the Merriam-Webster Dictionary offers an even broader definition ranging from the ‘two parents and their children to a group of people deriving from a common stock or ancestor’. These definitions are too vague for our purpose. For clarity of understanding, we will henceforth define family as those individuals who share a close genetic relationship with yourself which we shall define as sharing DNA in the range of 25% of your own.
Families in all societies are governed by implicit rules of behaviour that serve perhaps unknowingly to promote the survival of the family members. Where families function well, they promote the sharing of resources and information to all members’ benefit. To prove this point, we only need to look at our own societies.
We exist in an age where data is ubiquitous as such; it is easy to determine the impact that the family has on a child’s life chances. Even in highly individualistic Anglo-Saxon nations, academic research indicates that the lack of close family during childhood showed strong correlations with poor life outcomes. These outcomes range from long-term income disadvantage, lower general intelligence levels to poorer physical and mental health. Furthermore, these adverse effects seemed, in many cases, to be inherited by subsequent generations. These extraordinary adverse effects are quite striking. If even in the modern age in countries with high standards of living and advanced societal support systems, these outcomes were still pronounced, then it must have been even more so in the past. This was easily confirmed, every author from the past who dealt with the plight of the forgotten talk about the orphan and the widow’s sorrow. Victor Hugo, a French author and historian, mentions the figure of ‘50% of abandoned children perishing’ in nineteenth-century Paris. The bible mentions the suffering of those without families often, and let’s not forget the suffering of the Wolfskinder or parentless children from Germany after the second world war.
By reviewing the evident negative effect of lack of family on children’s survival and life outcomes, it is apparent that the family makes a substantial contribution to human offspring’s survival. Furthermore, these laudatory effects are not limited to childhood but continue throughout life with the positive impact of families being correlated with greater stress resistance in adults and increased longevity in seniors. As our purpose is to ensure the survival of ourselves, our children, and our kin, and as the institution of family supports this aim, it is clear that it must form part of our Individual Purpose.
We should understand that family differs from kin. Family is more than just a group of those who are genetically related to some extent. It is a formalised group which has rules for admission and set obligations for those within it. The family in this work consists of three distinct groupings. Each of the three groupings, while being distinct, have overlapping responsibilities.
The first element of the family is the ‘birth family’. The birth family is the nuclear family into which you are born. The birth family is limited to those who share around 25% of your genetic code, extending up to your grandparents and across to include your uncles and aunts.
The first element of the family is the ‘Birth Family’. The birth family is the nuclear family into which you are born. The birth family is limited to those who share around 25% of your genetic Code extending up to your grandparents and across to include your uncles and Aunts.
The second and more critical grouping is the ‘Reproductive Family’ or your nuclear family. This second family is the family which you form when you and a partner produce offspring. This family extends downwards to your grandchildren who share an approximate genetic closeness of 25% with yourself.
Combined, the conception of the two genetic families in the Code is similar to the more ancient concept of consanguinity. Yet it is not the same, as the degrees of consanguinity do not precisely align with genetic closeness. For example, while you share approximately 50% of your DNA with both your parents and siblings, their degrees of consanguinity are one for your parents and two for your siblings. The diagram below better illustrates this distinction and visually defines the family in the conception of the Code.
However, this is only one part of the family. As we reproduce sexually, we almost inevitably expand our families to include our reproductive partners. This expansion makes sense as, in essence, by producing children with another individual, you create a new family as those children share 50% of their genetic material with your family and 50% with their other parent. It follows that as you and your partner create this new family, you both bring with you your existing familial connections. As children follow, both you and your partner’s relations have a vested interest in the survival of your children. But what of your obligations to your partner and their kin? While they are not related to you, they share a duty to your partner and your children. This problem is an ancient one and is resolved in our society through the institution of families-in-law.
In this work, this problem is managed through the third element, which is also called the ‘Family In-law’. This third element of the family consists of the addition of your partner’s birth family to yours. In essence, upon marriage, the two partners reciprocally assume each other’s duties to their respective families. I.e. her mother and father become your father and mother and vice versa. This union of families is only through the two of you and your children. It does not extend to either of your birth families. In other words, while you and your partner have duties to each other’s families and both families have duties to the two of you, the two families’ members do not incur any duties to each other.
This can be seen in the diagram below whereby, through marriage, your family expands to include your spouse’s kin but your and their families only expand to include yourselves and any offspring you have. Each birth family includes the new nuclear family but not each other.