Communication Matters: Defining Family

Mar 12, 2019

I'm Dr. Bailey Oliver with the UA Little Rock Department of Applied Communication and KUAR for Communication Matters.

When I ask students to create a story about a family, I’ve noticed a majority are about a man, a woman, and their biological children. But the majority of us in the US are likely part of a restructured family that includes both biological and non-biological ties. So why do we tend to talk about families this way?

Definitions have largely been tied to legality. Spouse is a legal term in a contract. Noting a child as a dependent on tax forms required legal proof of birth or adoption, rights same-sex couples were barred from until recently. Now, researchers have found these definitions are expanding to include blood-relatedness, marital ties, or even community and organizational membership.

So how we communicate about families in the law, the media, and even with one another matters and evolves our definitions and acceptance of what it means to be a family.