Fifty years ago, the ideal family was considered to be Mom, Dad, a couple of kids, and a Golden Retriever. However, as times have changed, so has the definition of family. If we’ve learned anything from the modern families in this month’s issue, it’s that families come in all shapes and sizes. To get the next generation’s take, we chatted with four Beijing World Youth Academy (BWYA) students.
How does where you come from shape your idea of family?
Jessica: I was brought up in an American-Taiwanese family. My mom taught me more traditional Chinese ideas while my dad taught me to be more open-minded. Sometimes my teachings clash.
Kevin: We come from Finland, but both of my parents are Chinese and we are quite open-minded and modern. It’s different from a Chinese family, where the kids have a lot of activities and rules to obey.
Sophie: Being raised in China, I don’t know the concept of having a sister or brother. To me, a brother or sister is a normal friend you can talk to.
Maxim: Both of my parents are Russian and maintain tradition as much as possible. As someone who grew up outside of Russia, I notice I value Russia more than some people who actually live there.
How has the idea of the traditional family changed over time?
Jessica: In old days, families were way larger than they are now.
Maxim: Maybe the size has changed, but the concept hasn’t.
Kevin: How can you determine whether it’s changed when the word itself is vague?
Maxim: I wouldn’t say it’s very abstract. It’s easy to tell who is in your family and who is not.
Kevin: Maybe it’s easy to you because you see family as only people who are biologically-related. But I [consider]my good friends as part of my family. They’re my brothers and sisters.
Maxim: Still, aren’t they friends and not family?
Kevin: In a wider definition, you can also classify them as family.
What is family?
Maxim: People who are biologically related to you. Extended family like a brother-in-law or stepparents should be considered family too, because they impact how you develop.
Kevin: One definition is a community with biological relations and another would be [one]with shared goals who care about each other. I see my class as a big family.
Jessica: I have lots of “aunties” who are my parent’s friends. I think they count as family because they impact your life greatly.
Sophie: I define family as a group of people who trust each other and put their relationship above things like money.
What are some examples of modern families?
Kevin: Kids in orphanages see each other as brothers and sisters and the people who take care of them as moms and dads.
Sophie: There are gay and lesbian families and they live perfectly fine, just like anyone else.
Maxim: Don’t you think that children who grow up in a same-sex family would not receive a full education or all the traditions they would if they were in a family with one male and one female?
Jessica: There are general ways that men and women tend to think, and a family with both genders might be more influential than same-sex families.
Kevin: Same-sex families might have less influence from the other gender, but if they have the guts to be together, they probably see the world with a different perspective and have different values.
Is there such a thing as an ideal family?
Jessica: A two-parent family is better than one.
Sophie: Single-parent families are fine because the child won’t have favoritism for the other parent.
Maxim: One parent can do a great job raising children, but you learn more if you see two people interacting. It gives [the child]an example of how to communicate with others.
How do different cultures define family?
Sophie: Religion affects the value of family. In China for example, Taoists believe you should worship the generation before you. But no one is perfect, so it doesn’t make sense.
Maxim: All religions though, [whether it’s]Islam or Christianity, basically say you shouldn’t disagree with your parents.
Kevin: In Muslim culture, a man is allowed to marry up to four women and that can heavily influence people’s views about family as well as gender.
How does the media shape your perception of family?
Maxim: I grew up seeing American, Russian, and some Korean media, and it’s interesting how they’re different even if some shows have similar storylines. Korean dramas, for example, seem so fake but I realize it’s probably just my feelings, as someone who hasn’t encountered the culture.
Sophie: When you watch TV commercials showing a perfect family, it’s like seeing a painting; it’s above the standard of what is actually possible.
How do you envision your future family?
Kevin: With someone of the same culture, because it would be easier to live with a person if you eat the same kinds of food and there wouldn’t be too many disagreements.
Maxim: I wouldn’t necessarily need to be with someone of the same nationality, but someone close in terms of culture.
Jessica: Someone with the same nationality and culture. I would like to stay in China or close to Asia. I want to be close to my Taiwanese family.
Sophie: It depends on the pollution and whether the problems in China get better, because I don’t want to face unknown danger. If it gets better, I would stay in China because it’s my homeland.