Family is Where We Live

Nora Bateson
4 min readJan 29, 2021

(This is a piece that I wrote as a forward for a French book on family therapy called Les défis des familles d’aujourd’hui: Approche systémique des relations familiales in September 2020 thanks to Salvatore d’Amore)

Family is the blood tie, and the non-blood tie. Bound, unbound and always returning to the tension between coming and going, caring and abandoning, living and dying. Family is a time-boat that spins in a whirlpool of present, future and past. Ancestors sing and spit, unborn generations write their inspirational notes in treasures and traumas they will inherit. The days pass and it is family that is the soup of it. Family is sour, savory, nourishing, while it is also impoverishing.

Family is all of it: it is the close ones we love to care for, and the dangerous ones. Family is a raging sea, a rugged mountain, a warm fire, and an orchard of old fruit trees that have fed both grandmother and granddaughter. Family is acidic, and cruel; the sibling that would kill you, the uncle that would rape you. Family is anyone that is there for you at four in the morning. Whether or not someone shares your DNA, or your bed, or your household, or your history or your money — — family is an ever-shifting ecology.

Where is the edge of your family? Is it parents and children? Is it microbiome and the ecology? Is it the culture? Where is family in the history and hidden stories of love and destruction?

But family is not what it used to be. No nostalgia, just paradox. Family was always fraught with contradiction. People have always toggled between needing and not needing their families. We have all relished and resented both giving to our families and receiving from them. The familiar, which even has the word ‘family’ in it, is not a static state, or a predictable pattern. The familiar in a family is the reality that each day each member of a family changing. Each morning we wake up both knowing and not knowing our family.

Family is where we live. Not in countries or careers, or sectors or economic classes…in families. Even if I live alone my aloneness is written into the endless stretchy tendrils of my family.

This is relationship in complexity. This is day to day living.

The next decades of human life on this planet will reveal of how each of us has nourished the relationships we live within — today, tomorrow, next week… Did we perceive the complexity in ourselves, in each other, in the world? Did we tend…

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Nora Bateson

Filmmaker, writer, educator, lecturer, President of the International Bateson Institute. Books: Small Arcs of Larger Circles 2016, Warm Data *upcoming 2019