Why Family Story?
It’s time for America’s policies and practices to catch up with the demands of today’s families. In order to pave the way for effective policy and practice change, we must first change the way we think and talk about what makes a good family.
You don’t have to look far to find evidence of America’s belief that the best kind of family is the nuclear family—a household composed of a married man and woman raising their biological children. But when one family arrangement is held up as the ideal, by default all others fall short. As America’s families have shifted in configuration over the last several decades and become increasingly less likely to be nuclear, many proclaim that family is in crisis.
But what we’re experiencing is not a decline or crisis, but a reimagining. Over the last 50 years there has been an explosion in the diversity of family structures in America. In today’s America, there is no one family arrangement that the majority of children live in. Fewer people are getting married and more children are born to parents who aren’t married. Taking the long view of history, these changes are part of the continuing evolution of America’s families. If we look across the past two hundred years, we see that perspectives about families, and people’s roles in them, differ from our current views.
It is no coincidence that the families who fall short of the nuclear family standard are more likely to be poor, people of color, headed by women, and/or LGBTQ. The consequences of falling short are substantial . Failure to satisfy America’s family standard is met with shaming, blaming, and penalty. The negative narrative about these families is harmful, directly impacting their health and wellbeing. The hardships marginalized people face are blamed on bad personal choices instead of failed policies, practices, and structures. But there is nothing inherently wrong with non-nuclear families—in fact, there is a lot we can learn from them.