Family of choice

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Family of choice, also referred to as chosen family, found family, kith and kin, or hānai family[1] is common within the LGBT community, sex positive BDSM community, groups of veterans, supportive communities overcoming physical or substance abuse, and friend groups who have little to no contact with their biological parents. It refers to the group of people in an individual's life that satisfies the typical role of family as a support system. The term differentiates between the "family of origin" (the biological family or that in which people are raised) and those that actively assume that ideal role.[2]


The increase in individualism combined with the necessity for social support, as in the case of LGBTQ+ communities, may account for the increase in Family of Choice as a popular term. According to Euromonitor International, the number of one-person households doubled worldwide between 1980 and 2011, increasing from about 118 million to 277 million, and will rise to 334 million by 2020.[3][4] Unlike prior generations subscribing to the nuclear family model, more and more people are living independently, which in turn evolves the cultural understanding of family and its subsequent social norms. After analyzing more than 1 million books published in the past two centuries, scholar Patricia Greenfield of UCLA found that terms like "obliged" "authority" "obedience and "belonging" decreased over in mention over time, in favor of "choose," “individual,” “self,” and “unique.” [5][4] Likewise, families are no longer defined by strict parameters of marriage and parenthood. The late German sociologist Ulrich Beck observed how, in contemporary society: “Marriage can be subtracted from sexuality, and that in turn from parenthood; parenthood can be multiplied by divorce; and the whole thing can be divided by living together or apart, and raised to a higher power by the possibility of multiple residences and the ever-present potentiality of taking back decisions.”[4]

LGBTQ+ Family of Choice[edit]

Within LGBTQ+ communities, a family of choice may or may not include some or all of the members of the family of origin. Likewise, LGBTQ+ individuals may operate within both a family of choice and a family of origin, which may or may not get along, let alone intersect.[6][1] This terminology stems from the fact that many LGBT individuals, upon coming out, face rejection or shame from the families they were raised in.[1] As a family system, families of choice can face unique issues including social legitimacy, surrogate grief, direct and vicarious trauma, and even sexual tension.

Social legitimacy[edit]

Without legal safeguards, families of choice may struggle when medical, educational, or governmental institutions fail to recognize their legitimacy. The issue of social legitimacy is further complicated in many parts of the world that do not recognize LGBTQ+ marriage, civil union, or adoption, resulting in precarious situations whereby members of a family of choice may have to lie in order to authorize, sign for, represent, claim, or defend the people they love.[1]

Surrogate grief[edit]

If members of the chosen family have been disowned by their family of origin, they may experience surrogate grief, displacing anger, loss, or anxious attachment onto their new family.[1] This may present as unnecessary comparison to their family of origin, or the persistent thought or expectation that people will act or behave like members of their family of origin.[1] Conversely, chosen family members may also repress their grief, not wanting their feelings to affect or disappoint their newfound family system.[1]

Direct and vicarious trauma[edit]

While families of origin and families of choice can both cope with direct and vicarious trauma, families of choice may address these issues more often in therapy due to the deliberate nature of their congregation. For example, since LGBTQ+ families of choice are often composed of LGBTQ+ people who can relate and understand each other, experiences with oppression and minority stress can result in direct trauma to the whole family unit.[1] Similarly, vicarious trauma, defined as a trauma response arising in someone when they're not the direct victim, may cause additional stress and emotional fatigue.[1]

Sexual tension[edit]

Many families of choice are strictly platonic, yet others may cross into romantic or sexual territories, especially when adults who have no biological relationship with each other share feelings of belonging, validation, acceptance, and unconditional love with each other.[1] While is clearly observable within sex positive BDSM and polyamorous communities, it also occurs quite frequently in friend dynamics when trust begins to cultivate attraction. This can sometimes be confusing within a family of choice, as it changes the intent of the relationship dynamic.[1] It is also not uncommon for closing romantic and sexual relationships to transition into more familial dynamics. In this way "old lovers can become new brothers and sisters just as easily as old friends can become new spouses."[1]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Stitt, Alex (2020). ACT For Gender Identity: The Comprehensive Guide. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers. pp. 372–376. ISBN 978-1785927997. OCLC 1089850112.
  2. ^ "ALGBTICAL LGBT Glossary of Terminology". ALGBTICAL Association for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Issues in Counseling of Alabama. 2005–2006. Retrieved May 4, 2016.
  3. ^ Jamieson, L.; Simpson, R. (2013). Living Alone: Globalization, Identity and Belonging. Palgrave Macmillan.
  4. ^ a b c Depaulo, Bella (3 March 2016). "Families of Choice Are Remaking America:Through their networks of friends, singles are strengthening society's social bonds". Retrieved April 20, 2020.
  5. ^ Patricia Greenfield (2013). "The changing psychology of culture from 1800 through 2000". Psychological Science. 24 (9): 1722–1731. doi:10.1177/0956797613479387. PMID 23925305.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  6. ^ Roland, C.B.; Burlew, L.D. "Counseling LGBTQ Adults throughout the life span" (PDF). Retrieved April 20, 2020.