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What Is family? ... it’s complicated

“Family is a funny thing.

I have to admit, I’m one of the lucky ones. My family is my refuge, the place where home is like a warm buzz and I come home to curry cooking in the kitchen. My parents balance strict parenting, telling me to focus on my work and examinations, and acknowledging when I need a break. I’m blessed with parents who bring me to church every Sunday, who encourage me to end the day off with a prayer of thanks and encourage me in whatever I do. When I wanted to become a vegetarian, they started switching some of the dishes at dinner to more plant-based proteins. We can still have family game nights where we scream at each other and then talk normally the next day. My sister and I aren’t at wit’s end with each other 24/7 (which is surprising). I am blessed with a home that supports me unconditionally.

But I know of some, where every word to their parents brings an angry scolding. I know some who stay out of the house because they can’t find comfort, and some who rely on one parent solely. Some go to different houses every week and they have no choice whatsoever. And they still call these broken, shattered pieces of a home, Family.

So what is Family exactly?” – Maegan Tan (daughter)

I asked my elder daughter if she would consider writing her thoughts on family and what it meant to her. As parents, we wondered how God has used our family through the years. My husband and I agree that family is the foundation of every couple’s and child’s life.

We have always been open to having our children’s friends in our home, regardless of their family background. We remember the time when the girls invited quite a few of their friends from school or church either for a playdate, study date or a sleep-over. These times were valuable as they allowed our daughters to realise that what they took as the norm for our family might not always be so for other friends.

Over the years, as our two daughters have grown into teenagers, the types of families they know through the friends they make, have taken on different forms. There are single-parent families, families with parents who are separated, some have re-married to form a new family or a blended family of two children from different families. How do we as parents teach our children to understand and embrace what is different?


We are careful to teach our children to not use a single lens to view things that are different from their understanding, and that there are multiple facets to an issue that we encounter. In doing so, we pray and ask God for wisdom in the conversations we have. One example of this was when Maegan asked if a friend of hers could spend some time over the weekend at our home. She shared that she was feeling depressed and wanted some time away from her family. We told our daughter that her friend could come over and that she could try to help her friend by providing a listening ear. On another occasion, our younger daughter had her 12th birthday celebration at home with three friends, two of whom had families with parents who are separated. We were a little worried with her choice of friends but God reprimanded me in my quiet time and said: ''They are precious to me, in my sight, and I do not see them as the world does. Let your daughter be the bridge to her friends that they may also know what is complete and whole.” We concluded that friendship was the gel between the girls and that it was a good thing.


As a family, we had asked God ‘why’ when our own daughter was going through anxiety. Through the months, with each visit to the doctor and the psychologist, I struggled and asked God: “Why would a child from a stable family be anxious, or feel anxiety? We neither pressured nor confronted her over any academic issues and were very supportive and understanding.” Over time, we began to encounter more friends or families who were dealing with bullying issues and their children were feeling anxious. While it was the last thing on our minds to extend help when we were seeking help ourselves, it allowed us to identify with families who were going through the same struggles and we were able to talk openly. The open conversations allowed us to recognise that our adversity can be an opportunity in God’s kingdom. We were also deeply aware that God allowed these exchanges to draw two families closer to each other.


What does it mean to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world? Our girls have learnt this commission in church and many a time, we have shared it with them. But do we, as a family understand the gravitas and depth of God’s commission to us? While it is easy to be in our comfort zone, God will also push us into areas where we are not comfortable. In our family, it means to do so when it isn’t at our convenience and our comfort. I had the opportunity to enjoy the friendship of a single parent. She has two young daughters aged 6 and 9 and is managing the entire household on her own. On one occasion, we brought the younger daughter back to our home to stay as she was given five days MC and her mum could not afford to take time off work. Yes, our girls had school to attend, their schedules to manage, and routines to keep. But we recognised that the needs of another child and her family were just as important to us.

My prayer is that we allow ourselves the opportunity to be used by God as a family, to show love to others who are looking for one and to know that God’s love for His family stretches far beyond just our own.

What is family? Perhaps this question becomes all the more pertinent in seasons of celebration like Christmas, when we cherish times of reunion and gathering among families. My prayer is that we allow ourselves the opportunity to be used by God as a family, to show love to others who are looking for one and to know that God’s love for His family stretches far beyond just our own.

Daphne Lee-Tan is a multi-tasking mother of four who loves her two senior dogs as much as her two children. She relishes good stories and enjoys conversations with her daughters. Maegan is a 14- year-old vegetarian teen who writes like a warhorse, and is pursuing Literary Arts at SOTA. Her motto is: “less plastic, less waste.”

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