And Not All Nuclear Families Are Happy

"Family Portrait" by Athena1970

"Family Portrait" by Athena1970

This morning, my friend George sent me to an intriguing (and hope-instilling) book review over at In These Times. Take a big breath for this title:

One Big Happy Family: 18 Writers Talk About Polyamory, Open Adoption, Mixed Marriage, Househusbandry, Single Motherhood, and Other Realities of Truly Modern Love

Intrigue: Editor Rebecca Walker (daughter of the much-beloved Alice Walker) addresses class, race, gender, monogamy– many of our social building blocks for what a family is “supposed” to be. I don’t believe she’s being voyeuristic here. ITT titles their review “Not All Happy Families Are Nuclear,” quoting Walker:

“I was looking for stability, complexity, longevity and overall happiness. When I saw those four elements in a family, no matter what it looked like, I paid closer attention.”

I was raised in a family that is traditional almost to the point of cliche (white, small town, parents still together, 1 girl/1 boy, active in church, the works), but I believe that people relate to one another in far more complex ways than our culture and language leave room for. I’m intrigued by the sincerity of this collection, and I look forward to the stories of people brave enough to let their lives unfold in the ways that are often misunderstood.

Hope: I hope that as these stories are told, our narrow lenses start to widen. When I came out to my mom a few years ago, she was largely supportive, but “had hoped to be a grandmother.” That a same-sex couple could provide a healthy environment for children is the one concession she wouldn’t grant me.

Of course, for most people, a nuclear family with a heterosexual couple at its center is what makes the most sense (whether by nature or by long-ingrained social construct…that’s another discussion). But who are we to define the needs of others? I believe we should judge a family tree by its leaves’ health, not its branches’ shape, and I find hope in Walker’s goal to share stories of “Truly Modern Love.”


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