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Opinion: Today's Families are Beyond Traditional...And That's OK

by Katlyn Joy | June 18, 2014 12:00 AM
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Gone are the days of Leave it To Beaver, where Mom stayed home, adorned perfectly down to her pearls, while Dad brought home the bacon. Today the word family is inclusive, and children seldom feel different for having two sets of homes and parents—or for having a single parent, or two parents of the same gender.

Gone are the days when a child could be ostracized for having parents who never married. A kid who lives with Grandma fits in just as well as the kid who lives with Mom and Dad. And isn't that a good thing?

Today's families can be multiethnic, blended with step and birth kids, raised by two parents who choose not to marry, live with extended family or contain adoptive or foster children, or have been born as the result of surrogacy or donated sperm or eggs.

The 2010 census showed that only 48 percent of US households consist of the traditional family; a married mother and father with kids. This is the first time since such data was collected, 1940, that the traditional family fell below the majority.

A popular show on the ABC Family network features one such family, who stretches the traditional fabric of family to be more inclusive. In this family, "The Fosters," we have foster and adoptive children, of varying racial and ethnic backgrounds, headed by a female couple. In last season's finale, one of the women, Lena, announced her pregnancy.

While not everyone has the same level of comfort with different types of family depictions on television, the facts are that we are a nation that is built on the family model. However, that model has changed significantly over the years to include all kinds of families. Media is reflecting these changes more and more.

Celebrities openly adopt, and sometimes transculturally or transracially. In the old Golden days of Hollywood, adoption was mostly hush-hush and the children were handpicked to match the rest of the family.

Storylines in movies and television include more of nontraditional families. We have at least two series featuring families with multiple sets of wives and children. While in the 70's it would have been whispered about, today a significant number of children grow up in solid homes where their parents never legally married.

Some people wish for the Cleavers to return, but perhaps that was more an illusion than we ever realized anyway. It was not unknown in many neighborhoods of a child born out of wedlock, and that child suffered from society's perception of that child being out of the normal rules of society. Rushed and unwanted marriages, which became dysfunctional but traditional families were sometimes the results of these societal pressures.

The important thing to gain from society's inclusion of various family configurations is the removal of shame and suffering from the lives of children who live in another kind of family. Children deserve to grow up loved and secure, safe and protected and free from ridicule or fear.

I am part of a non-traditional family myself, although I feel like a regular American family. My fiancé and I are not yet married, and are raising our five youngest children together. He is African-American, I am white. His two children are my stepchildren, and I add three more to the mix. I am an adoptive mom of African American kids, and birth mom to white kids and a biracial daugher. Non-traditional but happy and normal, whatever that may be.

Making children feel safe and valued, whatever their situation at home, should be the real and most important goal of inclusion and acceptance. Whoever tucks them in, whoever is kissing them good night, all kids need to know they are part of a real family.


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