Families Come In Many Shapes; How Many Are Like Yours?

Two-year-old Griffin is being raised in a perfectly modern family: his mom is a single mother by choice, who conceived him via IVF with sperm donated by a good friend. Her friend and sperm donor now lives with them part-time, though, and does a fair bit of day-to-day parenting. He puts Griffin to bed, feeds him breakfast and reads him stories. They share chores and other domestic tasks.

The rest of the time, “Uncle George” lives with his partner across town. On Sundays, they all have dinner together.

There’s a long profile of this odd trio in the New York Times this weekend, but it never seems to get at the important question: what is this like for the kid?

Right now, it’s probably all perfectly normal. Griffin is surrounded by caring, involved adults who meet his every need. At almost-3-years-old he has no idea his living arrangement is unusual. Having a mom and an “uncle” and an “uncle’s partner” is just how the world works for him.

It’s hard to read the whole article and not worry about the future, though. All the adults in Griffin’s life come off as self-absorbed and more than a little immature. The bits of dialog that let us peer into their relationships are chosen to reveal strains in the system. Maybe they’re just like every other domestic arrangement: pretty happy, but imperfect. Or maybe they’re headed towards breakups that will destabilize Griffin’s family.

None of that has anything to do with the unusual nature of their arrangement, though. Plenty of traditional married couples are self-involved and immature, and lots of them break up. Plenty of unusual families stay stable for years on end. They just don’t tend to be profiled in the New York Times.

The Times profile of this family seems to be shining a spotlight on them because they’re evidence of an emerging trend. They write:

Such is the hiccupping fluidity of the family in the modern world. Six years running now, according to census data, more households consist of the unmarried than the married. More people seem to be deciding that the contours of the traditional nuclear family do not work for them, spawning a profusion of cobbled-together networks in need of nomenclature. Unrelated parents living together, sharing chores and child-rearing. Friends who occupy separate homes but rely on each other for holidays, health care proxies, financial support.

While more households may be unmarried than married, I suspect few of them resemble Griffin’s family. This is an unusual arrangement by any metric. Still, they might symbolize an emerging trend in that families are moving away from the “one-size-fits-all” approach and coming up with unique arrangements that suit the individuals involved. Another NYT piece over the weekend described New York as the place where families come in all shapes and sizes.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the article was the graphic sidebar that lets you see how many families are like your own. I think of my household as pretty mainstream: there’s me, my husband, my stepson and my two daughters. So how many households are made up of a married couple and three kids? Just under three percent, it turns out. Who knew? Apparently even “normal” seeming household arrangements are pretty unusual.

I love that the New York Times chose to highlight such an unusual family arrangement, because I love reading about alternative families. I wish, however, that they’d chosen a family with more interesting and mature adults in it.

What do you think? Is this article a breath of fresh air for alternative families, or are these people a bit of a trainwreck?

Photo: gsz

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