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Dr. Roger A. Rhoades
Dr. Roger A. Rhoades

Dr. Roger A. Rhoades, a licensed professional counselor for more than 20 years, is a popular relationship therapist who has gained a national following through his appearances on television talk shows. He is also a frequent contributor to notable magazines on such subjects as dating, breakup recovery, and infidelity.

He has a Master's Degree in Religious Education with an emphasis on Marriage and Family from New Orleans Baptist Seminary, and a Doctorate Degree in Ministry with an emphasis in Pastoral Counseling from the Graduate Theological Foundation.

His most recent book, Living in the Moment, is available online through his cyber office in which he shares "a-ha!" moments he's experienced -- when the light dawned and he suddenly saw something in a new way. The little pocket-size book is available through Dr. Rhoades' cyber office located at

Dr. Rhoades' articles that appeared in Challenges can be seen at

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Author's Note: Please feel free to share this article—my only requirement for reprinting is that you credit me with a byline and print my short biographical and contact information at the end.


Defining “Family”

by Dr. Roger A. Rhoades


As more and more of today’s family members break past the boundaries of what is customary and expected, traditional ways of defining family just don’t work.

For example, some people would have you believe that family is a specific structure defined by the number and sex of the people within the group. The longer I live and practice therapy work, the more I realize that defining family with that formula is a great disservice to the everyday people who live the genuine dynamics of family life.

Others think that a family is made up only of people from the same bloodline and perhaps those who have married into that particular bloodline. Many of them put a great deal of effort into connecting themselves with various ancestors who preceded them. They make a big deal about their heritage and expect you to accept the notion that it gives them a leg up. It is upsetting to hear them put unjustifiable value on the opinions or habits of those in their bloodline. At times this form of “family superiority” is even used to discredit people who have married into the family but don’t share the family’s view of the world. Imagine the terror this group feels if a boy child is not born into the family. The idea of not having a male heir to carry on the family name is enough to create distress across the entire structure.

Another accepted structure that skews the true meaning of family is the “model family.” You know who promotes this concept. They are the ones who believe that a family consists of a mom, dad, two children (one male and one female), and a dog who—of course—live in a house with a picket fence. The model family idea has caused grief in the lives of so many people. If you do not have a model family because, for some reason, you are unable to find a mate or have children, or afford a house, then you are just out of luck. You have missed the ideal and you will have to settle for a second best life. Those who try to live up to the standards set by the model family suffer if they fall short. Issues such as divorce, infertility, or money problems are so threatening and become so frightening that people break down just over the mere thought of any of these things.

What about the television idea of family? This family, which once reflected only white middle class suburban values, has changed over the years to include all races in all geographic areas but has not really changed at all—the diversified television family of today is still able to solve any problem in a thirty-minute or one hour time span. No matter what issue, in this structure, family members are always able to find common ground. Even if someone has to completely alter the way they live life, the television family is up to the task—living like a greeting card is always the best way to go.

Let us not forget the television family’s ability to interject humor into almost every issue. Nothing is ever so serious that humor is not an important part of the coping mechanism. Even when this group goes through major life and death situations, by the end of the show they are able to laugh about it. The lives of many regular people have been shattered by trying to copy a family structure that was invented by a group of television writers. The real truth driving the family on the “tube” is simply that the more ideal and yet simultaneously amusing their story is, the more viewers will tune in and the more products will be sold by advertisers.

In sharp contrast to the groups I’ve described so far, there’s a growing school of thought that a family is not about structure at all, but about relationships. This new group does not just count on blood to define their family because sometimes people in your family of origin will let you down, cut you off, or leave you out. They do not count on the number or sex of people to define their family because sometimes a role needs to be filled by someone who does not fit the “correct” profile for that role. They do not count on television to define their family because they know that it’s a medium that plays more on a person’s fantasies than on the everyday realities of life.

This group realizes that true family consists of the people who support you being who you were meant to be. Given the chance to be critics or cheerleaders, your true family members choose to be cheerleaders. They do not take your side against someone else until they have heard both sides of the story. They are willing to live and stay connected with you though the good, the bad, and the ugly in life. They do not try to take up the slack for anyone who was once a part of the family but has chosen to leave. They just make sure that they do their part without blaming or making excuses for others.

In this “real” family, skills such as listening, loving touch, honest words, informed decision making, and spiritual understanding are used as a matter of habit. The real family never forgets that all their members are human beings—and that human beings are flawed. This family understands the power of love as a bonding tool and is willing to use it liberally in all situations. The final trait of this group is the ability to forgive. They realize that sometimes things go wrong and people are hurt, either on purpose or by accident, and they use the passage of time and forgiveness as ways of gluing the broken pieces of true family relationships back together.

The great news is that it is never too late to join or create a true family. It will take a good mixture of work, faith, trust, and love. For those who are willing to take this leap with a spirit of flexibility, the rewards are out of this world.


© 2007, Dr. Roger A. Rhoades


Dr. Roger A. Rhoades, a licensed professional counselor for more than 20 years, is a popular relationship therapist who has gained a national following through his appearances on television talk shows. He is also a frequent contributor to national magazines on subjects that include dating, breakup recovery and infidelity. You are invited to visit him in his cyberspace office on


Dr. Rhoades is proud to announce that he has written the foreword for Donna Bailey-Thompson’s newly published book, Stark Raving Sober, “the true story of a woman’s tumultuous marriages to troubled men and her determination to survive.” Read it online at