A New Year, A New Definition of Family

ShutterstockBeing single and childless isn’t the hardest part of working at Parents. Rather, my most challenging obstacle is my unconventional upbringing. I was raised by a single mother. As a child, I didn’t notice being different from everyone else. My mom and I have always shared a unique, special relationship. Every Tuesday night we watched Gilmore Girls together, and to this day I can’t make a decision without calling my mom for approval at least twice. Doubt me? I once left Ikea empty-handed because I couldn’t get cell service in the comforter section. Despite my wonderful, if fatherless, childhood, I find it difficult to get into the mind of our readers, who I’ve always assumed have a bit more testosterone in their household to balance things out. 

But perhaps I’ve been wrong about that. For as I recently recognized after reading this recent New York Times article, my nontraditional family dynamic turns out not to be all that unconventional after all.

I’m far from alone in being raised by a single mother. In 2011, 36 percent of mothers who gave birth were unmarried and 44 percent of single mothers had never been married at all. Mothers are increasingly becoming breadwinners. Forty percent of households with children under 18 include moms who are either the sole or primary source of income for the family, compared to just 11 percent of households in 1960. What about dads? A record 8 percent of households with children are headed by a single father today, a number that has increased ninefold since the 60s.

The current generation of young adults illustrates a vastly changing view in social norms. Seventy-two percent of adults 18 to 29 prefer a dual-income marriage, where the husband and wife both work and share household and childrearing responsibilities.

And the very definition of marriage has changed. Same-sex marriage is now legal in 16 states, and there are more than 100,000 same-sex couples raising children in this country. Their kids have proven to be academically and emotionally indistinguishable from those of heterosexual parents. As Natalie Angier put it, “In increasing numbers, blacks marry whites, atheists marry Baptists, men marry men and women women, Democrats marry Republicans and start talk shows.”

Pop culture is mirroring that shift. The sitcom TV series Modern Family includes two gay fathers raising their Vietnamese adopted daughter. The show has received four consecutive Emmy awards for “Outstanding Comedy Series.” Change the channel and you’ll find Mom, where Anna Faris plays a single mom in Napa Valley. And as pop culture is invariably a reflection of social change, there’s clearly more than entertaining television shows playing out before us.

So on New Years Day, as we clink, cheer, and kiss those nearest and dearest into 2014, let’s also embrace the new definition of family. No one household is, or needs to be, the same as the next. If I’ve learned anything from my days at Parents, it’s the importance of loving and valuing your family, whatever the makeup and however it’s defined. This year, my resolution is to do just that.

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Image: Mother hugging daughter via Shutterstock.

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  1. [...] American family is changing, fundamentally, rapidly. Whatever the world of our parents and grandparents and great-grandparents [...]