Trying to define "family" can be a tricky proposition. It's a widely and politically used word and can mean different things to different people. Simply trying to give it a definition can arouse strong feelings and animosity between one group and another.

The most useful approach is to define the family in terms of its essential and indispensable functions within society. Indeed, families have historically played at least seven critical societal roles that no other group or institution can fully or adequately perform.

Way back in time, Confucius said it this way: "Put the world in order, we must first put the nation in order; to put the nation in order, we must first put the family in order"

Here are the 7 things families do best:

1.The role of procreation (replenishing the population).

2.The role of modeling commitment and cooperation (children need to feel prioritized and, if they have two parents, to see partnership and teamwork).

3.The role of nurturing (facilitating children's emotional growth and helping them develop into responsible adults).

4.The role of providing a lasting identity , something permanent in our lives as everything else (employment, residences, and so on) changes.

5.The role of instilling values . (Other institutions may help, but the buck stops with the family wherein values are applied as well as taught.)

6.The role of offering love and fulfillment to individuals at a level beyond what is obtainable elsewhere. (Children should receive unconditional love within families, and parents are refined and completed as persons through the selfless love they give to their children.)

7.The role of caring for the elderly (ideally in a personal or direct manner, but if not, at least in connection with institutional care).

Two things are absolutely clear. First, society cannot survive, let alone prosper, without these seven functions. Second, no entity other than family can perform the full list of roles as well or as efficiently.

These seven roles or functions can also be thought of as the core purposes of family and, to some degree, as the measurements of a family's success. Parents who accomplish these seven things derive a satisfaction that is available nowhere else. By fostering and supporting these aspects of family life, they make an incomparable contribution to society.

As former U.S. Secretary of Education William Bennett said, "The original and best Department of Health, Education and Welfare is - the Family."

And here is former Chrysler Chairman Lee Iacocca's take: "The only rock I know that stays steady, the only institution i know that works, is the family."

And George Bernard Shaw brought it down to the individual level: "Perhaps the greatest social service that can be rendered by anybody to this country and to mankind is to bring up a family."

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