Every family has a story

Family dynamics are changing in a world where work and home are becoming less separated.

Young dad sitting on floor working with laptop while wife playing with son on background


I’m reading a brilliant book about family dynamics – Julia Samuel’s Every Family Has a Story. At the end there is a section titled A brief history of family. It dates from the pre-industrial age and talks about how families used to exist ‘in large units as a social bubble and a workforce’. Multiple generations of extended family often lived together and in wealthier familes, there were also employees. Families were geared around economic necessity, living and working together to keep the family going.

A lot has changed since then, in particular the separation of home from work. Families have adapted to the changes, become more fluid, more open, less hierarchical. Individuals have greater freedom. There have been all kind of health changes, including in relation to reproductive health and people are living longer. The role of women has obviously evolved, particularly in relation to work, but their role as main carer has not evolved quite as much.

What is striking is that, after the pandemic, greater numbers of us are working more from home and are likely to do so increasingly in the future despite all the naysayers because that is the direction of travel. And more of us are forced for economic and caring reasons to live in households of multiple generations. Children are living at home for longer or boomeranging back after university or college. Care homes are closing and supported living is costly. Are we in part returning to the pre-industrial age, but in a high-tech way [and hopefully with more support so that pandemic working – doing everything simultaneously – does not become the norm]?

A recent keynote speech by Dr Ayesha Khanna at the CIPD’s Festival of Work conference spoke of how work will become more immersive in the metaverse and how homes and buildings will adapt. It may sound like a sci-fi film, but a lot of this is happening now. Past, present and future are all coalescing. In my worst days of grief, that thought comforts me – that we live surrounded by all our pasts. What has been will always be. What remains a constant is the family, however it is configured.

That makes understanding our own family dynamics vital. The book explores different family set-ups: divorce, bereavement, estrangement, intergenerational trauma and resilience. It’s the story of all of us, exploring how different family members have or haven’t dealt with different life events and trauma and how this is passed down the generations. Understanding means we can more forward instead of being stuck in repetitive patterns and can in turn try to shape our own families in more positive ways.

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