It’s a Different Family Life Than Your Mother’s – The Changing Composition of Families

“I wanted to open a window into the lives of new-tradition families, evaluate their mindsets, and depict that just because a family appears “untraditional” does not mean it is inauthentic, or without love and happiness. I wanted to give legitimacy to all of the decisions being made today, to say yes, you can take a risk and make a happy family, too. Different does not have to mean tragic; it can simply mean real, authentic and sui generis.”

–Rebecca Walker

Choosing and Building a Different Family Life

Feminist author Rebecca Walker is no stranger to controversy. Named as one of America’s 50 future leaders by Time magazine in 1994, she also has personal experience with a different family life than most. The child of an inter-racial marriage between esteemed African American author Alice Walker and Jewish attorney Mel Leventhal, she is singularly qualified to comment on the potential benefits of deviating from the norm. Her own forms of different family life include raising a stepson with a female partner as well as having a son of her own with her current male partner, Buddhist Choyin Rangdrol.

Even the title of her book, “One Big Happy Family: 18 Writers Talk about Polyamory, Open Adoption, Mixed Marriage, House Husbandry, Single Motherhood, and Other Realities of Truly Modern Love, doesn’t fit within the usual parameters. It used to be that only people wealthy enough to escape the potential social and economic consequences of nonconformity who could experiment with alternative lifestyles. However, with the new focus on the destructive effects of bullying, many have come to realize that society itself can also become a bully.

For example, for many years, one of the more humane reasons people claimed to be against interracial marriages was that the children of interracial couples would be bullied in school. The same was said of the children of same-sex couples. People are now much less willing to allow bullies the power to create and enforce social policies based on fear of their potentially violent reactions. The number of mixed marriages in the U.S. has risen steadily since 1967, when miscegenation laws were repealed. According to the Pew Research Center, in 2010, approximately 15% of all new marriages were interracial, more than double the 6.7% in 1980.

House Husbandry—When Role Reversal Creates a Different Family Life

Many financially successful men throughout history have stated that they could have never achieved that success without the supportive roles played by their wives. The same seems to be true of successful women. In fact, 30% of the 187 participants at one of Fortune’s recent Most Powerful Women in Business summits had househusbands. The increase in the number of househusbands has resulted in an increase of social acknowledgement of the difficulty and importance of home-making. While men were once ridiculed and stigmatized for playing what was viewed as a less important supportive role, stay-at-home fathers are helping to change that.

Polyamory: A Different Family Life With More Than One Partner

Polyamory is still far less socially accepted than other kinds of different family life. People often imagine sex triangles in which children are exposed to inappropriate behavior. However, according to many people who have written about their polyamorous relationships, there is a much larger focus on communication than on sex. There has already been some research on the effects of polyamorous relationships on children.

According to two studies, potential benefits to children include more individual time with an adult and the opportunity to develop more interests. More research is currently being conducted. Because monogamy, like heterosexuality, is the societal default, there are as many myths surrounding polyamory as there once were surrounding homosexuality. Now that societal defaults are being challenged, more people, and social scientists, are investigating other types of relationships as well.

Single Motherhood—Another Different Family Life

According to some recent statistics, in the U.S., the U.K. and New Zealand, approximately 25% of children live in single parent households. Most of the time, that single parent is the mother. In the U.S. in 2002, only 15.6% of fathers were primary custodial parents. 31.2% of custodial mothers had never been married, while 43.7% were divorced. Single motherhood is chosen by some, but not by the majority. One of the most difficult aspects of single motherhood is having only a single income. It is estimated that today, up to 40% of single mothers in the U.S. live in poverty.

Other challenges include balancing parenting with a career and enlisting help when necessary. Despite the challenges, single motherhood also has benefits. Marriages require a lot of time and effort, and that time and effort is well spent by single mothers providing a higher level of care for themselves and their children. Greater consistency is also possible when there aren’t two parents with different parenting styles, and children are never exposed to heated arguments.

Whether you’re a single, married, adoptive, interracial or polyamorous mother, the rewards of parenting are the same. Experiencing the wonder of the world through the eyes of a child and the special bond created by being needed transcends all else.


November 6,2015  |