Family Matters

The chosen family

Blood is thicker than water. At least, so says an ancient proverb that stresses the strength of biological family ties. Yet, as the notion of ‘the chosen family’ gained ground in the 20th century, the truth of that statement has been severely challenged: parents and siblings might be the people with whom we spend a big part of our life, but it could be others we end up bonding with the most.

The idea of choosing your own family, rather than accepting biological or legal kinship, has grown more important in postmodern society, as people increasingly tried to beat loneliness and hardship by creating their own circle of trust.

In the late 1960s and 1970s, hippies fed up with mainstream ideas, traditionalism and institutionalised life established alternative communities that functioned as extended families and relied on communal ownership and solidarity.

Yet these alternative lifestyles didn't always prove to be sustainable, as people found the group pressure to conform and the lack of private property hard to cope with. Moreover, self-sufficiency turned out to be a hard goal to achieve and the success of education in communal settlements came under scrutiny.

Next to communes sharing space and means to live, the last decades of the century saw counter- and subcultures forming tight communities that responded to their sense of belonging beyond the traditional family realm.

At the turn of the century, the emergence of social media enabled the formation of global families: tight-knit groups of people who might never meet in person but feel bonded by shared interests or an emotional connection.

Yet the most powerful driver behind demystifying the idea that ‘you can choose your friends but you can't choose your family’, has been LGBTQ+ activism. At greater risk for social isolation and family rejection, people in the queer community have found themselves leaning more on alternative networks for love and support, thus furthering a different understanding of what it means to be a family.