Families have transformed over the past decades in terms of their structure.
Nuclear, extended, single parent, foster, step, childless, grandparent – families come in many different varieties.
But cultures across the world still recognise the family as the basic unit of society, as does the United Nations which holds its annual International Day of Families on May 15.
The day provides an opportunity to promote awareness of issues relating to families and to increase knowledge of the social, economic and demographic processes affecting them. It also reflects its concern regarding their situation around the world.
With that on our mind, Merrick Life asked some of our friends and contributors – what does family mean to you?
“I know I’m lucky. Most of my life I’ve lived in a five-mile radius of my parents, grandparents and cousins. Even now I talk to my mum, daughter and cousin every day.
“We’re not a massive family and without mum I wouldn’t have been able to run my own business. There were times I had to be here and my mum would step in so I could work. That’s not something you could necessarily ask a friend to do, but with family, you can.
“They’re a huge comfort blanket. I think family is about love, loyalty and care.
“There’s a sense that you don’t want to let each other down. The bond gets stronger as you get older as you go through loss and share values and history, we are more there for each other.
“I think this goes down the generations and my daughter will follow in the same vein as I know how important the generations of the family are to her. 15 of us went away together – grandparents, cousins, aunties and uncles – and we had a great laugh.
“So many marriages break up and that affects the relationships with grandparents and that’s a real shame.”
“Family is a fluid word, especially now. For me, born in 1973, life was simple growing up with a mum, dad and two brothers. I thought this was the norm. I thought this was family. But as we go through life we soon realise that this is not everybody’s story.
“I believe perhaps more than ever we all need people around us that carry the heart of mothers and fathers. People who are fiercely for us, who will give us roots and wings. Roots to know we are loved unconditionally and wings to believe that we are a gift to those around us and the wider world.
“In regards to brothers and sisters, we all need to lean and we all need to support. My parents have also fostered and we have seen personally young lives flourish when love is served lavishly. I guess what I’m saying is that for a fresh vision of family we all need to play a role.
More than a second name
“We all have people around us today, perhaps at the bus stop, the lady next door, the guy on the opposite desk who need us to be family to them. It’s said it takes a village to raise a child. Problem is most of us don’t live in a village and we have no idea what the kid is called down the road.
“Family for me is more than a second name holding people together. I guess it’s making room for one more around the table, taking time to be a father or mother, pouring your best into others to help them thrive.
“It’s about interdependence (that’s the brother and sister bit) family is something we all get to be. You never know how your words, actions and deeds can change the world for one person who is waking up this morning desperate to experience what this thing called family really is.”
And we thought the last word should come from one of the actual Merrick family.
“It’s spending time with the people you love and them enriching your life.
“I’m not from a conventional family unit as my parents separated when I was nine. I remember being sad and upset but we were so fortunate that my parents placed so much importance on making sure we knew we were still loved and still a family unit.
“I do have a real sense of family with the people I’m related to and the people I feel most comfortable with.
“Now I live a couple of hours from most of my family and my biggest priority is getting home to see them as often as possible. I now have an extended family through my partner and it’s the same with them as well.
“I 100% agree that families take each other for granted because it’s expected that they’ll always be there. My mum and dad have always made me feel so loved I try my hardest to not take them for granted.”