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Different Is The New Normal

Thanks to ABC Family’s new series The Fosters for sponsoring this post.  Click here to see more of the discussion. Also, watch the series premiere of The Fosters on Monday, June 3 at 9/8c only on ABC Family.
JAKE T. AUSTIN, DAVID LAMBERT, SHERRI SAUM, MAIA MITCHELL, TERI POLO, CIERRA RAMIREZ

 

When I was offered the opportunity to screen the pilot episode of ABC Family’s new series The Fosters, I can’t lie, I was a bit apprehensive. Though I’m a middle-aged Mom and likely the show’s target demographic, my tastes typically run more toward HBO series like Game of Thrones, gritty documentaries, and absurdist comedies like Arrested Development. I honestly just didn’t see myself as someone who would connect strongly with a modern-day family drama like The Fosters.

How wrong I was.

And that’s because The Fosters - which premieres on ABC Family on Monday June 3rd at 9/8c – isn’t anything like your run-of-the-mill, feel-good family show. It’s a complex, finely wrought portrait of life in a multi-ethnic blended family with foster children. The characters are nuanced and real, and the relationships between them have all the complications and emotional weight that real life relationships do – nothing about this series feels saccarine or forced. (And thank goodness for that!)

Oh, did I mention that this family happens to be headed by two moms?

TERI POLO, SHERRI SAUM

I don’t say that fliply, but rather, pointedly. Because the lack of emphasis that The Fosters places on what a lesser show would hold up as a mark of difference is worth noting. Yes, these kids have two moms. FACT. But rather than making The Fosters into “That Show With Two Moms” – making it into shtick, into something that needs to be underscored and bolded – the show quietly and gracefully introduces the viewer to this particular aspect of the show’s reality without fanfare or unnecessary over-explanation. Which, in 2013, is exactly as it should be. This is a family, these people are a couple and they love each other and their kids, period and end of sentence. This approach, far from seeming like an evasive hat trick, puts the show’s emphasis precisely where it should be placed: on the threads that tie all of us together as families, whatever superficial differences may exist between one household and another.

And those differences exist, yes. But I think it’s fair to say that in 2013, different is the new normal.

I speak from some experience, being a divorced mom and the head of my own household. And though my daughter spent some of her childhood in what we still might call “a traditional nuclear family” – one with a married mother and father and biological offspring – that “norm” is fast becoming a relic of another age. My daughter knows this from experience, too, as her life is filled with families composed and configured in a multitude of ways. Her best friend is bi-racial and her parents are divorced as well. Across the street from us, there’s Mike and Michael (or “Mister Mike,” depending on how confusing we want to make the differentiation), a gay couple she’s known since she was a toddler, and next door to them a bi-racial family with two kids, who live next door to a young blended family. And so on, and so on – this is the reality of family my daughter knows, and it’s all around her. That differences are normal, and that what ‘family’ is isn’t a static or codified thing, but truly about the love people share and the bonds between them that are formed from that love.

This, to my mind, is a very good thing.

And The Fosters – in exemplifying and embodying that conception of family – is blazing a trail not just for television drama, but for the broader cultural normalization of difference. Because in The Fosters, the “non-traditional family” and all its members are shown exactly as they are: as completely ordinary and wholly relatable.

So maybe it’s time we revise that definition of “normal,” huh?

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