Mom, dad, and 1.7 kids. That is the core of the nuclear family. Add a dog, a white picket fence, and a house that is owned rather than rented, and you’ve got the ideal family portrait.
The problem with that portrait is that it is not a realistic picture of what a family looks like in the 21st century. As of a few years ago, it represented only about 20% of all households. At the time, the disappearing nuclear family was on a downward trajectory. Less than half of all households have a married couple. Of the households with children, many represent blended families and single parent families.
Factored into the equation is the second most likely find when knocking on the door of the average household: a person living alone. This person has neither spouse nor children. While we might be tempted to say they are without family, many of them would strongly disagree.
The definition of family is something of a cultural contrivance. Our typical domestic configuration has been greatly altered in the last 50 years and is still in a state of flux. The definition of family changes from one generation to the next, if not faster. Here are some other ways the 21st-century family unit has found new expression:
Nurture over Nature
There used to be an old saying seldom heard today: Blood is thicker than water. As it happens, blood isn’t nearly so thick as we once thought. People are discovering that they do not have to have a biological child of their own to have the same feelings of love and attachment.
There are many good parent candidates who for whatever reason cannot physically produce children of their own. The resurgence of surrogacy alternatives means more nuclear families are being created for more people in more places than ever before.
There is no need to let nature deny what science and surrogacy can nurture. A handful of genes no longer gets the final say on whether or not a loving family is made. Whether you are getting healthy after a pregnancy of your own or acclimating to the new life via surrogacy, it is still family.
Single-parenting Without the Stigma
According to the DailyMail:
An Associated Press-WE tv poll of people under 50 found that more than two in five unmarried women without children – or 42per cent – would consider having a child on their own without a partner, including more than a third, or 37per cent, who would consider adopting solo.
Like life, family finds a way, even if that way is not what tradition demands. Because legislation is changing for the better in this area, single men and women can more easily become foster and adoptive parents. That means that more children in need can have the opportunity for family that they otherwise would never have had.
Intentional single-parents are well aware of just how challenging their task will be. In that sense, they are often more prepared for parenthood than a typical couple that may not have thought it all the way through. There is no evidence that intentional single parents do worse than any other configuration. And from an orphan’s perspective, a single parent is exponentially better than no parent at all.
The Families We Choose
Not everyone wants to have kids. Remember, the second largest household demographic is singles. It might be some time before online families are recognized as an official social unit. But most of the elements are there already.
Just because a person is single does not mean that they do not seek fraternity. The bond between women who are best friends is often stronger than sisterhood. Biological families are thrust upon us. But we choose our friends.
There are many friendship bonds that demand a more formalized recognition. They provide unconditional love, support, comradely, socialization, in-group acceptance, and accountability. Is that family? if not, then what?
Today’s family is less defined by legal certifications, and more intentionally crafted through emotional bonds. It is TLC, not DNA that tells a child who her mother is. A brother is the one for whom you would die, not the one with whom you are forced to live. There is nothing casual or accidental about the family of the 21st-century.