Multigenerational Families

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Glossary of Multigenerational Family Technical Terms

Coming To Terms

In discussing the conscious building of a multigenerational family, it is necessary to define certain key terms. As in any field of study, a term can be given a technical meaning within that field of inquiry, while it has other meanings in the broader culture. Since many important terms are used over and over again, I will give the technical meaning that I intend for them.

I’m calling these “terms” rather than “words” or “phrases”. One of my heroes of the intellect, Mortimer J. Adler, taught me the meaning and significance of the term, “term” as opposed to “words” or “phrases” as it applies to making definitions. A term is not limited to a single word. It may be a phrase. A term is fundamentally an agreed upon word or set of words that represent a specific idea or concept. The controlling point is the idea or concept itself rather than the word or phrase that symbolizes it. In this way, it is possible for a single term to be represented by different symbols in different contexts. For example, a single specific concept must necessarily be expressed differently in the German language compared with English. Even in English, two people can be speaking of the same term with more than one symbol. For the purposes of clear communication, two or more speakers may have to identify which word or set of words will symbolize the single concept. Once that agreement is made, that word or phrase, can then be called a term. This is what Mortimer J. Adler says is going on when two or more people say that they “must come to terms.”

With that said, it would be misleading to readers to suggest that I would only use words or phrases with the specified technical meaning. Language and communication doesn’t work like that for a variety of reasons. While it is important that readers know how an author uses his technical terms, it is up to the reader to gather from the context whether the author is using the word in the technical sense or in some other sense. For example, I will give a technical meaning below to the term “family” as a husband and wife to distinguish it from the techinical concepts of nuclear family, extended family, clan and tribe. The word “family,” however, is appropriate to be applied to these larger groupings as well in their appropriate context. Most often context will determine which scope of the term family is intended. Sometimes it is used elastically – that is, it refers to the more than one scope at the same time. With this introduction out of the way let’s start coming to terms!

The Terms

Family: I assume a family to begin as soon as a man and wife are married. Therefore, a minimilist sense of the word family will identify a married couple without children. In the present culture, the common default meaning of family is what is more specifically called the nuclear family. The nuclear family traditionally includes a married couple and at least one child. It would also include a single parent and at least one child. As this is the common understanding of the word family in contemporary culture, this is how I will use the term as a default as well. However, I will also use it to refer to the other senses of family described in the terms below. Again, context should give the clue as to what sense the term is being used.

Generation: The term generation is typically used in two senses. Sometimes it refers to all the people alive during a certain period or point in time. As it is rare for a current living generation in this sense of the term to see both great grandparents and great grandchildren alive at the same time, that is the boudary line for this sense of the term generation. As grandparents and great grandparents rarely live more than 100 years, a generation in this sense is thought to be something less than 100 years. The idea of “the next generation” would be people, or family members, who are not currently alive, but will be alive in the next 100 years.

More commonly however, the idea of a generation refers to one of the relational tiers of a family. So in this sense, we speak of the parent’s generation, the children’s generation, and the grandparent’s generation (and adding “great-”s as needed). This is the default sense in which I will be using the term. So, for example, speaking of a third generation from the persepetive of a founding family will refer to that founding family’s grandchildren, rather than the group of family members alive some 300 years later.

Multigenerational Family: a family incorporated by bonds of familial affinity, extended over multiple generations, centered around a mission for the family received from God, with the responsibility of preserving, expanding, and most importantly, successfully transmitting that mission to every succeeding generation of the family.

Affinity & Familial Affinity: Affinity is a relational bond between two or more people based on a common commitment or a sufficient number of meaningful common characteristics. Familial affinity is a bond of affinity between two or more people that makes those people a family. This is in contrast to the bonds of blood which is only a biological basis for family membership. The two most obvious familial bonds of affinity that make family members are a marriage and adoption.

Household: There are two senses of the term household. One refers to all the people residing in a common residence whether they are family members or not. It is rooted in a single geographic residence. I use the term household in the second sense which is this: a group of people under the jurisdictional authority of a guardian. I introduced the term “guardian” to include the possibility that such an authority figure may not necessarily be a father or mother. Of course, the common situation is that this role is occupied by parents of children and in traditional family, the father in particular. This second way of using the term household shows that it is not necessarily tied to a geogrpahic location. A father’s child may reside at the grandparent’s farm for the summer, but that child is still under the father’s jurisdictional authority and is therefore still a member of his household. Also, a foster child would be a member the household for which a couple has legal guardianship even though the foster child is not a legal son or daughter.

Nuclear Family: A nuclear family is what we think of as the default sense of “family” in our modern westurn culture. The traditional nuclear family consists of father, mother, and their children. It is contrasted with the extended family of grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. In contemporary culture, nuclear families tend to occupy a single residence at the exclusion of extended family members.

Extended Family: An extended family goes beyond the nuclear family and includes a family member’s grandparents/grandchildren, aunts, uncles, neices, nephews, and cousins.

Clan: From Wikipedia — “a clan is a group of people united by kinship and descent which is defined by actual or perceived descent from a common ancestor.”

I like James Hughes’ [LINK] suggestion that a clan can begin as early as the third generation — “the first steps in an individual family’s evolution into larger social groupings occur in the cellular division of a family, with children dividing into clans as the third generation is born. …[a clan] describes every family of affinity’s natural evolution to a new grouping, as it grows from a nuclear family to a set of collective families in the third generation. ”

Tribe: from Wikipedia — “a tribe, is a social group of humans connected by a shared system of values and organized for mutual care, defense, and survival beyond that which could be attained by a lone individual or family. When viewed historically or developmentally, a tribe is a mutual care system which, unlike a kingdom or state or other schema, is oriented around kniship and shared beliefs. Tribes can well exist simultaneously with other schema such as states or other systems. They might consist of a social group existing before the development of, or outside of, states. Tribes are the most enduring and successful social survival system that has ever existed on earth. Tribes can exist within or without a state or kingdom and may or may not depend on the state or kingdom to endure.”

James Hughes suggests a tribe can emerge as early as the fifth or sixth generation but only if there is a sufficient bond of affinity and the family group consciously makes the transition.

Founding Family: A founding family is a married couple with children who self-consciously begin building a multigenerational family. This couple can also be referred to as the first generation or the founding generation.

Family Compact:

Family Constition:

Family Mission: a family mission is the stated higherst order objective(s) of the family and can apply from the nuclear family level all the way to the level of tribe. The mission is, or at least ought to be, written in a mission statement which can include, in addition to the specific mission objective(s), the family’s values, vision, and a summary of other components of the desired family culture.

Family Vision: a family vision is its statement of what it would like the family to look like in certain key areas of its culture at some date in the future.

Family Culture: A family culture is all the things a family desires to transfer to their next generation. These are the things that multigenerational families pass onto to their descendents: mission, values, vision, knowledge, skills, family rhythms, assets, and experiences. At the head of this list is mission. All the other pieces can be potentially implied from a family’s mission. So, while on the one hand it is more direct to say that a family’s primary stewardship is to pass on its mission to the next generation, the concept of a family culture helps communicate that there is a large host of things that a family passes on that are necessary to support that mission.

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