This paper provides a critical exploration of the assumptions and narratives underpinning the development of social policy initiatives targeting caring relationships based upon family ties. Using a narrative approach attention is drawn to the ways in which family identities are open to a far greater range of negotiation than is assumed by policy. Drawing on the United Kingdom as a case example, questions are posed about intergenerational relations and the nature of late life citizenship. The comparatively recent invention of narratives supporting ‘informal care’ and the link with neo-liberal and ‘third way’ notions of active citizenship are explored. As is the failure of policy developments to take into account the diversity of care giving styles and the complexity of caring relationships. It is argued that the uneven and locally specific ways in which policy develops enables the co-existence of a complex range of narratives about family, caring and ageing which address diverse aspects of the family life of older people in often contradictory ways.