All relative: how family is defined around the world | #blamemyparents | Life Links | DW | 09.12.2014
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All relative: how family is defined around the world

#blamemyparents was all about growing up without a parent. We wanted to find out how our international colleagues, as well as our viewers, define family. We checked out what some celebrities had to say too.

We asked Life Links viewers as well as our co-workers to comment on what family means to them. While we were at it, we thought we’d browse the internet to find out what public figures from the past and present-day have to say on the subject too.

Soumy Bose, a 36 year-old businessman from India believes family is about more than genetics. "The feeling of family lies not only in blood relations," he said and added:

The idea that family goes beyond biology is shared by Brazilian-Algerian film director Karim Ainouz. “My perception of family goes beyond relatives. Family isn’t a biological but rather a cultural connection. It’s something that you build, invent, and re-invent.”

35-year-old Pratibha Roy Chowdhury, who works as a deputy manager in India, even sees her colleagues as a kind of family. “As I spend a substantial part of the day with my colleagues, some of them are even closer to me than my family members," she says.

Not everyone agrees that family is a matter of personal choice. Social rights activist and leading Anglican Desmond Tutu says:


Symbolbild Familie Weihnachten drei Generationen

"Citizens become what they are based on the examples set at home,” Aketzalli Bobadilla from Mexico says

16-year-old Aketzalli Bobadilla from Mexico believes families are defined by shared values. “Citizens become what they are based on the examples set at home,” he says.

26 year-old student Bárbara Denysse Jofré Hertzer from Chile considers parents responsible for passing down good values to their children. "They are the ones who can teach their children how to treat others, to respect human beings, animals and the environment," she says.

Egyptian politician and activist George Isaac highlighted what he considered the defining features of family in his country:

"When we talk about family, we mean an extended circle of family members. In Egypt, fathers and mothers make sure that they live in the same city that their children and grandchildren are living in. That's what family in Egypt is all about."

But what happens when you lose a parent? For some, bereavement has meant re-defining what family means. Reuben from Ghana lost both of his parents when he was a child. Now he describes family as "those who see the tears behind your weak smile." He told Life Links about how he dealt with being an orphan and what helped him overcome the pain of losing his parents.
Many public figures have also spoken about the pain of losing a parent.

"My heroes are and were my parents,” baseball star Michael Jordan, whose father was murdered, once said. The loss of his father had a huge impact on Jordan and influenced his decision to switch from basketball to minor leage baseball in 1993. “Baseball gave me the opportunity to revisit all those moments I had with my father,” Jordan later said. “Everything I accomplished was thanks to him.”


Poet and filmmaker Sherman Alexie wrote about the experience of losing a parent in his book “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian:”

“At the hospital, my mother wept and wailed. She’d lost her other. When anybody, no matter how old they are, loses a parent, I think it hurts the same as if you were only five years old. I think all of us are always five years old in the presence and absence of our parents."

US politician Hillary Clinton has also paid tribute to her particularly close relationship with her mother, whom she turned to for encouragement and advice. Dorothy Howell Rodham died in 2011 at the age of 92.
In her memoir “Hard Choices,” Clinton writes of the time: “I found myself sitting next to her empty chair in the breakfast nook and wishing more than anything that I could have one more conversation, one more hug.”
For others, like Nobel Prize-winning author Alice Munro, the maternal relationship could also turn stifling.


Historically, definitions of family have not always been flattering. Irish playwright and wit Oscar Wilde took a pragmatic and humorous approach to the problems associated with relatives.


It is however the young diarist Anne Frank who offered one of the most profound insights into the relationship of an individual with their family. “Parents can only give good advice or put them on the right paths, but the final forming of a person’s character lies in their own hands,” she wrote.

We'd love to hear how you define family. Let us know in the comments below!

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