Anyone past the age of 20 will remember Steve Urkel, that nerdy kid with glasses and suspenders who lived next door to the Winslow’s in the successful sitcom “Family Matters.” While not a member of the Winslow family, Urkel is so intertwined with them that he might as well have been kin. And the Winslows put up with his quirky behaviors as if he were family.
Shows depicting family life have been extremely popular ever since television began, and they reflect the changing nature of our family and social life. Early shows like “Leave it to Beaver” and Father Knows Best,” were based on the nuclear family, a working father, homemaker mother and children. But as divorce increased, shows like the “Brady Bunch” with the theme of a blended family began to be aired.
Over the years, other forms of family have appeared on TV, including a single father raising 3 daughters in the sitcom “Full House,” a transgenerational family in “Parenthood,” and groups of friends bonded and functioning like families in “Friends,” “Seinfeld,” and “Sex and the City.”
“Modern Family” is one of the latest repackagings of the American family, with the patriarch remarried to a young immigrant wife. He is starting a new second family, while his adult son and male partner start their own family by adopting a Vietnamese daughter.
Why do shows about families remain so popular? Clearly, we can all relate to some concept of “family,” but why do families matter? It was Aristotle around 350 B C who first noted that, “humans are social animals.” It was clear to him that humans sought commonality and connection with each other.
Anthropologists tell us that humans began establishing social networks primarily out of the need for safety and survival. Groups of humans could hunt and gather food better together than in isolation. Human infants, being helpless and dependent, require care and protection for many years and that is more easily provided by a group structure. Social scientists have observed that all societies organize relationships of enduring solidarity, particularly those based on primary biological kinship such as parent-child and extended family ties. However strong kinship ties based on non-biological factors such as cohabitation, adoption and companionship are also common.
So does family matter merely because it helps to ensure our survival and provides security through feelings of kinship? Is this why we continue to form families whether through biological ties or bonds of friendship? If so, why are we so bitterly disappointed and suffer so much when we feel let down by our family for years after we no longer need them for our personal survival?
Perhaps we need to look somewhere other than anthropology and sociology for the answer to why family matters. It might be helpful to look to the originator of the human family, Father God Himself. He is the one who created the family by establishing its structure and blessing its functioning. It is the nucleus of community bonding that expresses the loving heart of Father God and reflects His commitment to us. It is the foundation where Father God intended we would grow into the maturity of being people formed in His image.
Please join us this Sunday at 9:00 AM or 11:00 AM. We are beginning a new series, The Family Mountain, and my wife Pastor Sue will be speaking on “The First Family”.