Families come in different shapes and sizes

Families - what is a traditional family?

I know what you will all say.

Mother, father and children. 

By the 19th century, the nuclear family, consisting of a father and mother and their dependent children, had become the model. The imagine of the loving happy family could be found in magazines, poems, novels, art work and in religious tracts (as the example above show). And just like the previous post I wrote on the history of women at work, the ideal wasn’t always the reality.

Did you know that in the 19th century there were more single parent families than we have today.

We think that single parent families is a modern day dilemma, it isn’t, however the reason for single-parent families has changed. Today it is result of high divorce rates and more mothers having children out of wedlock . . . in previous times, it was due to the high mortality rates - disease, mothers dying during childbirth or fathers dying as a result of work-place accidents. Something like one in four children experienced a death of parent before the age of fifteen. Both my parents lost their mothers and grew up in single parent households run by their fathers (who never remarried). My father was bought up by an older sister and my mother by older siblings and her fathers sister. Whatever the cause, children suffer from the loss of one parent - they did in the past and they still do today. The pain is still the same.

Interestedly, what we call the traditional family was considered expensive (and many say the same today) and in the 19th century is was far cheaper for poorer families to have households that included grandparents and other relatives all living under one roof. This was ideal in many ways: if mother had to work, the grandparents were able to help look after the younger children and prepare meals; and if the grandparents were old, they had someone to care for them. Other options for families was to take in boarders, such as young men and women working in local factories as this also provided a small income for the family. In 1900 in Australia, 11% of households contained a lodger for economic purposes. 

Even in wealthy homes, unwed sisters and aunts were forced (often not by choice) to live with an older brother who took charge over their lives. This caused all sorts of stresses for some spinsters, especially those who wanted more independences. 

There is no “one-size-fit-all” when it comes to families. In modern day we have single parent families, we have blended families (like the Brady Bunch), we older families, younger families, large families, small families and multi-generational families. They are all families, just not all the same as throughout out times.

I grew up with a father who was a farmer and my mother was a school teacher. I have three brothers and we lived on a farm. I had a wonderful childhood (even though I might not have appreciated it at the time) and I wouldn’t have changed it at all. Even though my mother worked, we didn’t miss out on anything. The most important factor of our childhood was knowing that our parents loved us dearly and that the decisions they made were based around that love. 

And that gets me to the point of all this rambling  . . .  LOVE

Families come in all different shapes and sizes,  as they have for centuries . . . and it doesn’t matter what the combination of family type you have, LOVE remains the most important ingredient. A parent’s love for their children is what keeps a family anchored in the turbulent seas that surrounds us.

Without love, there is no laughter, or joy, or happiness, no hugs, no cuddles, no hope
. . . . just sadness. 

So the next time you see a family whether that be at church or the supermarket . . . . a large family with lots of children, or a small family with only one child. A family where grandpa lives or just a Mr and Mrs family. Do they look like they love each other to bits?

Don't judge the size of their family, how many children they have or the fact that their family is different to yours . . . look out for the SIZE of their LOVE and the joy on their faces because that is what matters the most.

She watches over the ways of her household
Proverbs 31:27



  1. Jo, I love this blog post - such an encouragement in a world that judges and disapproves all too quickly. Certainly many families don't fit God's ideal, but if we look back into the oldest history book of the world, we often see what we still see today - messy families that are recipients of God's grace. Big families. Small families. God's grace fits them all. Also, it's interesting to see that even back in Bible times sometimes there were blended families - think of Abraham's family, Hannah's husband's family, Naomi's family, Jacob's family! The Scriptures are full of messes saved by grace!!!! What an encouragement to us today! It's also interesting to note that some of those messy families were due to sin, and others were through no fault of those who suffered as a result - and the same is still true today.

    1. I find it so sad that large families get rude comments from strangers (and family) about the number of children they have and families with no children get questions about the lack of children. We, as humans, are very insensitive and that is just sad. And it is even worse when it comes from other Christian women. But I love the “messy family” concept, that is a perfect way to phrase it as it sums up families perfectly. We are all different in many ways and that really is ok.

    2. I like you comment too, Clara, and "messy families" is a good turn of phrase to describe us all, really. :-)

  2. Thank you for this post, Jo. It is encouraging and also thought-provoking. We humans do get such unrealistic ideals about things sometimes, don't we? I especially appreciate your including a Mr. and Mrs. household as a family. Sometimes it feels awkward and sad that we are "only a couple" and not considered "a family" by some just because my husband and I have no children. We have a close family relationship with my parents and brother and sister-in-law, but even just the two of us are family. Thanks for including that.

    I have started reading a book on marriage and family in the Middle Ages. I've only read the introduction, but it is quite an eye-opener. Families have had some very different definitions in other times and places. In some times, there wasn't even a close bond between the parents and children because children often didn't live long and it was too painful to set one's heart too much upon them. Of course, this is one reason why we read the admonition to LOVE within our family units in the New Testament! "Messy families" redeemed by God's grace were to shew a more excellent way - charity and love - than the old pagan cultures, and the modern ones. I think the salt of the Gospel has influenced the expectations of family LOVE in the Western world at least.

    1. It is so sad how others judge families so harshly if they aren’t “just like them” - it makes no sense to me, especially when done by Christians about other Christians.

      Some families have these wonderful close extensions, they don’t necessarily all live together but mingle so often they really are just one large extended family. My cousins and I with our parents where a bit like that - always in each others pockets, its one of the reasons why I loved my childhood.

  3. Here in Asia, grandparents and elderly aunts living with families with young children is very, very normal. Often, it makes great financial sense because housing is so expensive--children can take care of their aging parents, while their grandparents do a lot of the childcare and housework. Families all over the world look very different--but you're precisely right, love is what matters.

    1. Rachel,

      My mother is in a nursing home due to a stroke and she is cared for by Australian staff, but also by quite a few from Asia. She finds that those from Asia are generally more caring and she often towards the elderly and she wonders if that is because of their closer contact with the elderly. I can see the pluses of having one’s aged parents living with their children and grandchildren as each generation can care for the other and share the load of work in the household and the elderly can pass on their wisdom to the young.

  4. What a great post and a very important reminder about what is important and that is love. Thank you also for the message of "not judging others", this is so important too. We would have loved to have our parents living with us and caring for them and them in return helping us and being the "wisdom" for our children, but unfortunately it wasn't too be. We hope to be that for our children and our grand children, what a blessing that would be. Thanks for sharing at Good Morning Mondays. Blessings

    1. Sadly my parents live in another state so living with us isn't a possibility and my house is too small - but I do wish I lived closer to my dad (who now lives along) so I could help him far more :(

  5. Families come in all shapes and sizes. All that matters is love! Thank you for sharing this at the #SmallVictoriesSundayLinkup!


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