What We Do
Family Story’s work is focused on 5 key areas:
I. Exposing the “Traditional Family” Machine and its Harms
Most conventional wisdom about family, the role of marriage, and the well-being of children, is shaped by dubious ideas about the superiority of “traditional” nuclear families. These ideas are often based in a deeply conservative worldview about what a “good” family should look like that is rife with sexist, homophobic and racist assumptions. Many have their roots in well-funded right-wing Christian ministries, but they are also advanced by moderate and conservative think tanks and pseudo-academic research institutes who erroneously present them as fact-based. Their imprint shows up regularly within policy debates, reproduced across bills, and repeated by local, state and federal lawmakers across the ideological spectrum. This causes tangible harm to many already marginalized communities by presenting their families as dysfunctional, undeserving of support, and requiring state supervision. Family Story is tracking the key players, exposing the dangerous agenda of organizations and funders trying to manipulate thinking about modern families and family structures, and lifting the veil that allows them to operate in the shadows.
II. Interrogating the Data: The Evolution of Family
As any family demographer will agree, there have been significant shifts to family structures and family life over the past several decades. However, the meaning made of these changes, and the interpretation of what the data is telling us, remains hotly contested. Declining marriage rates and rising nonmarital birthrates are frequently evoked to defend the baseless contention that the American family is in moral crisis, while methodologically-flawed, ideologically-driven research is used to bolster the specious claim that marriage is the best solution to poverty – an argument used to justify dismantling what is left of our social insurance programs. This cannot stand. Allowing data on changing family structures to be interpreted as “family breakdown” has served an unscrupulous political agenda for far too long. The evolution of family life is long, complex, messy, and not free of hardship, but is also a story of progress and liberation for many. Family Story is setting the record straight by interrogating the existing research, common assumptions and (mis)understandings, and rejecting erroneous interpretations that justify harm within communities. We are also conducting new research, free of the moralizing and judgement that infects our current understanding, in an effort to help us all better understand and properly define the evolution of family life.
III. Supporting Families Under Attack
Not all families are treated equally. Black families are treated by the media as “broken,” the injustices they face erroneously blamed on long-recycled dangerous stereotypes. Low-income single mothers are reprimanded for having children they cannot “afford” and admonished for failing to secure a husband. LGBTQ families still face significant legal challenges when it comes to adopting or fostering children, their familial relationships frequently invalidated. Families across the country are forcefully separated against their will, torn apart by deportation, separated at borders, and divided up by mass incarceration. At Family Story, we stand for families who are regularly targeted by these harmful policies, derisively cast as cautionary narratives, and whose well-being is frequently under threat. We believe in their equal dignity and value, and that an attack on them is an attack on all our families.
IV. Providing Tools for Advocates and Journalists
It’s time for America to catch up with the demands of today’s families. But to pave the way for effective policy change, we must first shift the way we think and talk about what makes a good family. Family Story is offering our unique expertise and insights to advocates, especially those seeking to evolve and improve their language and messaging, and to journalists who want to tell more unbiased stories about real families. This includes guidance on improved reporting standards; calling out negative stereotypes; and providing accurate, respectful language that avoids the often antiquated, offensive jargon of family formation. (“Out-of-wedlock births”? Ugh.) This will soon include the development of tailored fact sheets, talking points, and toolkits for different audiences, in order to assist them in addressing the most pressing and timely issues of the day as they relate to the evolution of family and family life.
V. Showcasing a Diversity of Real Families and Telling Better Stories
Too often, the stories we see and hear about families reflect only a narrow slice of what families really look like and how they operate. There has been an explosion in the diversity of family structures in America, and we believe it is important to highlight real families, especially those who lack mainstream visibility. This includes “single” and “solo” parents; extended family members helping raise children and caring for elders; multi-generational households; “chosen” and non-biological families; queer families of all configurations; families without children; families connecting over distance due to incarceration, deportation, custody arrangements, or distant economic opportunities, and much more. Through sharing stories, we seek to expand our cultural imagination about what family really is and what it could be. At Family Story, we validate the significant obstacles and challenges real families face, while still affirming their inherent dignity and ingenuity, and supporting solutions that meet families wherever they are.