A couple of years ago, my teenage daughter Violet sent me a “War and Peace”-length text full of searing moral condemnation: “Our family literally operates on an axis of drama and gossip, that is perpetuated by Nana and possibly you and your sisters.” She went on to talk about how she and her cousins did not want to be involved in this “adult dysfunction.”

When I read this text I was chastened, and also a little amused. I have a big family with many sisters. At any given point in the day, my mother is on the phone with one of us. But were we operating on “an axis of drama and gossip”? And is it so bad if we were?

Maybe family gossip actually diffuses tension. Maybe it’s not dysfunction but a way of coping. Maybe gossip enables us to work through the difficulties of family life so we can get to its pleasures. How better to make sense of the world than to talk about it with the people you’ve been talking about things with since you were born?

I realize that this is not the popular view. A few minutes on TikTok will unearth earnest lectures on “toxic family gossip” and cathartic riffs on freeing yourself from it. In Jewish law, there are commandments against gossip. In the Bible, Miriam gets leprosy for gossiping about her brother Moses.

And of course, there are situations, maybe even in my own family, where we are fanning fires, egging each other on, just being catty. But what about harmless family gossip? What about the human need to comment on goings-on?

In her wonderful essay “In Praise of Gossip,” the scholar Patricia Meyer Spacks calls gossip “healing talk.” This may sound like a stretch, but I think there can be something therapeutic about talking things through, about expressing rather than simmering. One might argue that jokes and snippets of gossip and derisive texts make it possible for us to smooth the edges, to show up for each other. To pull ourselves together in real life.

It is possible that family gossip—the jokes on a group chat, the venting and harping between sisters—helps us get through crises together. I think there is a way to look at this “axis” my daughter was talking about as a survival mechanism. Over decades, how does one deal with the foibles and eccentricities of family members? How does one navigate aging parents and assorted emergencies?

There are absurdities that come up in family life, things to absorb and comment on, ways in which reality is distorted by one individual or another. Gossip may be a genuine effort to make sense of things, to define and name disturbances in our small universe. In some contexts maybe gossip is not toxic but rather an intellectual labor, a working through. The novelist Laurie Colwin recasts gossip as “emotional speculation,” which I think is helpful.

If my sisters were gossiping about me, I imagine they would talk, in earlier phases of life, about my dubious taste in men. Or they might gripe about my annoying habit of writing about the people in my life. Does this bother me? Honestly, I’d rather they talk about these things among themselves, without me.

This is not to say that all gossip is harmless. There are, of course, family stories that wound. Distances that arise. I have seen people drift from their siblings because of machinations behind their back, so there is an edge to gossip, a risk.

My daughter made the compelling point that in a world that is bruising and arduous and critical, your Thanksgiving table should be a safe space. You should feel unconditional support from the people closest to you, who have known you your whole life. Of course she is absolutely right. But then again, if you feel a bone-deep confidence in your connection to your family, a little idle gossip can’t touch it.

I have noticed that gossip thrives in bigger families, maybe because there is more space for alliances, more competition, more jostling for love and attention in formative years. One of my friends has an official family group chat that is polite, almost formal, where everyone is their best selves, and then several side chats, between her and each of her brothers, where they snipe and vent about each other.

“We’re a small town!” says another friend who grew up with four siblings. She forwarded me a chain where she forgot one sister was included and accidentally made a catty joke about her and then quickly backpedaled. This friend is very sanguine about the culture of gossip in her family, which is mostly jokes and patter. “Ultimately we all love each other and hate each other,” she says. “We all have opinions and feelings that are best not shared directly.”

My own family is made up of psychiatrists, lawyers and writers, so maybe it is not surprising that in personal life, we litigate, we analyze, and we storytell. The journalists among us want to bring news. To me, there is joy in little details observed and shared. Is it terrible to say? Gossip is fun.

Many of us love to curl up with a big family saga, but what about the one we are living in? It is hard to resist stories, the desire to create narrative out of the mess and chaos of experience. A Jane Austen character observes that gossip is also “something that makes one know one’s species better.”

But back to my own family, that hotbed of gossip. Would it be better for the next generation if they didn’t have a cabal of aunts mulling over their romantic choices? Would it be healthier if they didn’t overhear their mothers complaining about various and sundry family happenings? Perhaps. But one could also argue that all this care and attention and picking apart is the other side of love.