A Grandfather’s Role

I have a very different idea of what constitutes a family from my daughter who lived with her mother after divorce. I define my family as those related by blood, whereas my daughter considers everyone who has ever lived in her past household, including all children of her former stepdad, even those from another mother, live-in boyfriend, etc. I am concerned about how this will influence my granddaughter who is being raised by me to respect and live out biblical teachings.

Should I continue to impress my beliefs on my granddaughter regarding who to embrace as family? Also, is there danger to society in general by people accepting the idea of a “nuclear” family rather than a traditional definition? My daughter’s stepfather is divorced from her mother for several years.

Joseph K.

Dear Joseph,

It sounds to us like the adults in your daughter’s life took actions (divorce, remarriage, divorce, living together) that made and continue to complicate her life. Your daughter is grown up now and raising her own daughter. The best help you can be to them is to model commitment and faithfulness, not to try to ‘teach’ your daughter about family.

That said, the Biblical idea of family is pretty clear. It does not include any friends, lovers, former spouses or hair-dressers of any family member. It means people currently related to one another and, most importantly, related individuals who share obligations towards one another.

Family is certainly central to the Bible. We have obligations to our parents, siblings, and children that we don’t have to others. Yet, as you note, the nuclear family is not a Biblical model. In our Scrolling through Scripture video course, The Book of Ruth: Chorus of Connection, for example, we elaborate on the responsibilities of a deceased man’s brothers towards his widow. In addition, the Bible gives examples where animosity between half-siblings, such as David and his half-brothers or Joseph, son of Rachel, and Leah’s children is wrong and harmful.

Family, in general, has gone awry these days and your situation represents that sad reality. You had your opportunity to raise a child and now it is your daughter’s turn. We hope that the people she keeps in your granddaughter’s orbit are decent and good individuals, but your role is to be supportive and a pillar of love and constancy, rather than to negate her mother’s choices.

Enjoy being a grandfather,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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