There was a time when everyone could tell you what an ‘average family’ was. A Mum and Dad and 2.4 children (never quite understood that number myself) were the norm and every TV advert featured a stereotypical family of four with matching hair colour.
But what is a conventional family now? Is there such a thing anymore? The nuclear family, as sociologists define it, used to be a male provider with a female homemaker, living within the institution of marriage. Society has changed so much in the past 50 years that the nuclear family we now see has an equal division of labour between two people, not necessarily man and wife, not necessarily of different sexes and increasingly not even two people.
My own family is a good example. We are a man and a woman who thus far have chosen not to marry although we live together. My partner has one child who is now an adult, I have two primary school age children with my ex-husband that I raise with my partner with involvement from their father. We also have a new baby on the way. When we’re walking through the park on a sunny day we look conventional but we’re far from it, or are we? Are we more conventional now than when I was a single parent?
My brother is married and has a child from a previous relationship that he is actively involved in raising. They hope to have another baby at some point. Are they conventional?
I have clients who we have placed a nanny with. They are a same sex couple with three children. Are they conventional?
I have close friends who are a Mum, Dad and two daughters. Bingo, we’ve found an average family, oh hang on, this is his second marriage. Does that still make them conventional?
I also know lots and lots of families that are heterosexual married couples with 2, 3 and 4 children that do fit the stereotype of the normal family.
My point, as you have probably gathered, is that there is no such thing as a conventional family anymore. If you visit any school and ask children about their own families the range of circumstances you will find is breath-taking. With so many different varying family structures that don’t “fit” a societal norm, it is unclear now as to what is “normal”. Society is increasingly made up of the non-traditional family structure. The fact is the non-traditional family has become the traditional family.
Does that make a difference? There are many circumstances that are less than favourable to a child’s wellbeing and on-going development but I don’t think these are influenced by the structure of the family, more by the people within it, the relationships and the active parenting that is taking place.
When you’re next out and see a family don’t make an assumption about them. Don’t ask the kids with two men where their Mummy is today, they’ll probably tell you gleefully that they have two Daddies and enjoy your discomfiture. Don’t assume that the man playing football in the park with a little boy is his Dad. My son’s normal response to that is “he’s not my Dad, he’s my Dave, my Dad lives in America, I live with my Dave” before he runs happily back to what he’s doing.
When you see a family out all you need to notice is love. Are they laughing, playing and interacting? Are the children being parented in an active and appropriate way? Can you see happiness and respect? Surely that is what makes a family, not sharing the same name or fitting a stereotype.