What makes someone family, and what makes a bond special?

I have been having a debate with someone over the definition of family. I have a son with someone who I have never been married to. My friend is offended and appalled that I consider him family. My son, his father, and I make up a family. I don’t see how that is disputable. Although his father and I are not married(and never will be), I still view us as being bonded for life, through our son. Nothing I say to validate my point is getting across because I “haven’t backed it up with cannon law.” Is there no room for a modern definition of family? I hope to be sacramentally married in the church one day, so this is not about redefining marriage. My question is simply, Is it wrong to consider my son’s father a part of my family? And if not, are there any Catholic teachings that support this?

Family has many defintions, even within the Church. Those who assume that there is only one definition will incorrectly say that others’ definitions are wrong. When there are multiple definitions of a term, multiple people can be correct while not having the same definition.

Depending on the underlying question, a particular definition of family will be most correct. What is the underlying question the needs an answer?

For example: The catechism states "959 In the one family of God. “For if we continue to love one another and to join in praising the Most Holy Trinity - all of us who are sons of God and form one family in Christ”

Per that definition, all Christians who love each other are family.

I believe that creating a child with someone creates a bond that cannot be broken. Is this unfounded? My friend claims that there is no biblical or cannon evidence to support this, and thus it must be false.

My friend’s main argument is that the term family is reserved only for blood and marriage. And that it is offensive to whomever that I do choose to marry to consider my son’s father my family.

We created a family together. I don’t see how I can remove myself from that.

All actions have consequences. Some good some bad. You are your son’s mother. Your man is his father. there is no need for anything other than basic biology here. If you act like a family in loving each other or providing the basic responsibilities of a family unit, then there is no need to open the gigantic tomes of Canon Law to define the obvious. You are family. If it quacks like a duck, waddles like a duck, its a duck.
Its sacramental status within the Church is another matter, but family is a societal term as well as a church term. I am sure most of us don’t know enough canon law to sit around defining their friends relationships in such terms.

I think you have a good grasp of the concept of family.

You have not described very well what you are talking about. A bond between mother and child? (Yes, this parent child bond is real and will always exist) A bond between father and child? (Yes, this parent child bond is real and will always exist) Or a bond between you and the child’s father?

If that is truly the logic being used, it is in error. Something cannot be proven to NOT to exist simply because it is not referenced. Many things exist in reality that do not have biblical or canonical references.

As I mentioned before, because family has multiple definitions, you can both be correct, unless you precisely determine which definition you are talking about.

If you mean that you created a family as is described in this paragraph of the Catechism, then I believe that you are incorrect, because you were not husband and wife.

“The family is the original cell of social life. It is the natural society in which husband and wife are called to give themselves in love and in the gift of life. Authority, stability, and a life of relationships within the family constitute the foundations for freedom, security, and fraternity within society. The family is the community in which, from childhood, one can learn moral values, begin to honor God, and make good use of freedom. Family life is an initiation into life in society.”

So, if you say that you have the same type of family in the Church’s eyes that a married couple does, I believe you would be incorrect. But that does not mean that you are not family using one of the other definitions.

Concluding: You both can be right.

I apologize if I didn’t articulate myself very well. My argument with my friend did seem like a game in semantics.

I feel like I am bonded to my son’s father because we have a child together. Mother + Father + Child = Family. Because we are not husband and wife, I think it to be more like the familial relationship between cousins. Not sacred, but still family.

I broke up with my son’s father before I even realized that I was pregnant, so there never was a time where the three of us functioned as a family unit. However, he is in my life forever, and I do recognize that God gave us a gift to share. That sharing of the amazing gift of love and life is where I see us as family. My sister in law is my family because she loves my brother, and my son’s dad is my family because he loves my son.

I am not romantic with my son’s father, we are not living together, and we aren’t in any way acting like a married couple, simply co-parents.

I was being made to feel as if my consideration of him as a family member was an offense to God and an offense to the teachings of the Catholic Faith. I am currently in the RCIA, and am not equipped to back up my positions with the teachings of the church. I don’t want to offend God, but I can’t imagine how God would be offended by my belief that some bond was made when I made a baby with someone. I am not in anyway trying to compare it to a sacramental marriage. Our relationship is nothing like that. But, I still think that I should value him and his role in our son’s life.

You have a mature understanding of your relationship with your son’s father that many would admire. Go to the program with an easy heart. Your friend’s view is not the view of the Church.
God bless you in your relationship with all your family.

I found my answer in an encyclical by Pope John Paul II- Familiaris Consortio

I am the first to admit that it is not an ideal family, but a family still.


Particular Circumstances

  1. An even more generous, intelligent and prudent pastoral commitment, modelled on the Good Shepherd, is called for in the case of families which, often independently of their own wishes and through pressures of various other kinds, find themselves faced by situations which are objectively difficult.

In this regard it is necessary to call special attention to certain particular groups which are more in need not only of assistance but also of more incisive action upon public opinion and especially upon cultural, economic and juridical structures, in order that the profound causes of their needs may be eliminated as far as possible.

Such for example are the families of migrant workers; the families of those obliged to be away for long periods, such as members of the armed forces, sailors and all kinds of itinerant people; the families of those in prison, of refugees and exiles; the families in big cities living practically speaking as outcasts; families with no home; incomplete or single-parent families; families with children that are handicapped or addicted to drugs; the families of alcoholics; families that have been uprooted from their cultural and social environment or are in danger of losing it; families discriminated against for political or other reasons; families that are ideologically divided; families that are unable to make ready contact with the parish; families experiencing violence or unjust treatment because of their faith; teenage married couples; the elderly, who are often obliged to live alone with inadequate means of subsistence.

Other difficult circumstances in which the family needs the help of the ecclesial community and its pastors are: the children’s adolescence, which can be disturbed, rebellious and sometimes stormy; the children’s marriage, which takes them away from their family; lack of understanding or lack of love on the part of those held most dear; abandonment by one of the spouses, or his or her death, which brings the painful experience of widowhood, or the death of a family member, which breaks up and deeply transforms the original family nucleus.

In all these different situations let prayer, the source of light and strength and the nourishment of Christian hope, never be neglected.

Pastoral Action in Certain Irregular Situations

  1. In its solicitude to protect the family in all its dimensions, not only the religious one, the Synod of Bishops did not fail to take into careful consideration certain situations which are irregular in a religious sense and often in the civil sense too. Such situations, as a result of today’s rapid cultural changes, are unfortunately becoming widespread also among Catholics with no little damage to the very institution of the family and to society, of which the family constitutes the basic cell.

b) De Facto Free Unions

  1. This means unions without any publicly recognized institutional bond, either civil or religious. This phenomenon, which is becoming ever more frequent, cannot fail to concern pastors of souls, also because it may be based on widely varying factors, the consequences of which may perhaps be containable by suitable action.

Some people consider themselves almost forced into a free union by difficult economic, cultural or religious situations, on the grounds that, if they contracted a regular marriage, they would be exposed to some form of harm, would lose economic advantages, would be discriminated against, etc. In other cases, however, one encounters people who scorn, rebel against or reject society, the institution of the family and the social and political order, or who are solely seeking pleasure. Then there are those who are driven to such situations by extreme ignorance or poverty, sometimes by a conditioning due to situations of real injustice, or by a certain psychological immaturity that makes them uncertain or afraid to enter into a stable and definitive union. In some countries, traditional customs presume that the true and proper marriage will take place only after a period of cohabitation and the birth of the first child.

Each of these elements presents the Church with arduous pastoral problems, by reason of the serious consequences deriving from them, both religious and moral (the loss of the religious sense of marriage seen in the light of the Covenant of God with His people; deprivation of the grace of the sacrament; grave scandal), and also social consequences (the destruction of the concept of the family; the weakening of the sense of fidelity, also towards society; possible psychological damage to the children; the strengthening of selfishness).

The pastors and the ecclesial community should take care to become acquainted with such situations and their actual causes, case by case. They should make tactful and respectful contact with the couples concerned, and enlighten them patiently, correct them charitably and show them the witness of Christian family life, in such a way as to smooth the path for them to regularize their situation. But above all there must be a campaign of prevention, by fostering the sense of fidelity in the whole moral and religious training of the young, instructing them concerning the conditions and structures that favor such fidelity, without which there is no true freedom; they must be helped to reach spiritual maturity and enabled to understand the rich human and supernatural reality of marriage as a sacrament.

Given in Rome, at St. Peter’s, on the twenty-second day of November, the Solemnity of our Lord Jesus Christ, Universal King, in the year 1981, the fourth of the Pontificate.


© Copyright 1981 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

What a family is is not defined by canon law (with one n). Godparents become part of the family of the child and to the parents (hence once upon a time it was an extremely important decision who the godparents were). In the Middle Ages friends could be adopted into families though this was purely spiritual as there were no inheritance rights attached.

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