Family doesn’t fit into a neat box

by Rebecca Szkutak / Beacon Staff • October 14, 2015

With only one parent in my immediate family, I am constantly making clarifications about my household. I still need both parents to have access to a bank account with my name on it, and filling out online forms shoots errors across the screen when I only include one guardian’s contact info. It almost seems that only one type of household exists.

As more and more outdated stereotypes in America begin to break down, I’m wondering when we'll finally discard the concept of the nuclear family—a unit consisting of a husband, a wife and an average of 1.86 children, according to the United States Census. 

Although once thought of as the American Dream, this concept has also been exclusive, ostracizing many, including single parents, mixed races, and all that include couples of the same gender. 

These demographics are increasingly more prevalent. The amount of Americans born from parents of different races has grown 32 percent from 2000 to 2010, and that is only one faction of people.

These groups should not feel out of place—they are equal and should be celebrated all the same. I personally don’t think of my household as being different, because we are very similar and act like many others we know that have a non-traditional make-up. As the number of these “non-traditional” couples and connections begins to rise, our country still needs to catch up with its own people. 

For example, advertisements remain littered with the old-fashioned unit, as commercials show images of mom, dad and kids going on vacation to Disneyland, buying a new Mazda car, or getting a new AT&T cell phone plan. These depictions include two parents of different genders and the same race with their assorted children. People of dissimilar demographics who watch these commercials may not connect to them, or even be able to relate, feeling excluded. 

Some companies have begun to incorporate other types of households into their commercials, but the attempts have been questionable. A new Wells Fargo commercial shows the story of a lesbian couple looking to adopt a child, which starts out fine, but then it goes on to show the women adopting a new daughter who is deaf. As most of the bank’s previous commercials include nuclear families either moving into a new house, or a father reuniting with his kids after being away for awhile, this stuck out as if they just jammed as many minorities into one commercial as possible. It felt like an obvious marketing ploy.

Television shows are no different. Although these “different” dynamics have begun to appear in more sitcoms, the focus of the show is generally on the relationship “abnormality.” Modern Family seems like a step in the right direction, due to each of the three main groups of characters having very different demographics, but once again a lot of the focus is drawn to that factor instead of the actual plot of the show.  

The main focus is the concept of having two parental figures. I’m growing into my new position of only having one parent, and it's becoming increasingly clear how many other young people are in my situation, but not represented in the media. 

A few years ago I probably wouldn’t have noticed the homogeneous quality of what I was being fed on television. Products would feel like they were being marketed to me because I would be watching a spitting image of my home life play out on each commercial. Now that I have begun to realize they don’t market to situations like mine, it’s clear that they exclude more than they include.

According to the Kids Count Data Center, as of 2013, 35 percent of children under 18 in the United States lived in homes with only one parent. Whether these children are the product of divorce, death, or other circumstances, this represents a sizeable demographic.

Many aspects of a school environment need to catch up with this “new” concept—many registration forms and sports signups still require multiple parental signatures and contacts. I personally had to list my boyfriend’s mother as my own parent to be able to sign up for track in high school. Having to make exceptions for these children should not be the norm, because these systems should be set up to adequately include all children. 

This is even prevalent at Emerson. Make sure to take note of the college’s Emergency Notification System: Although it doesn’t require a specific amount of contacts that need to be filled in, you’ll notice you can only have two primary and you cannot select your relationship with this contact. “We recommend this contact be a parent or a guardian,” the site says. To make matters more exclusive, each line is labeled “parent contact 1” and “parent contact 2.” Under these tight circumstances, my boyfriend is listed as my second parent. 

I’m not saying Emerson shouldn’t have requirements for their emergency contact system, but we as students should at least be able to choose our relationship with these sources—after all, we didn’t pick and choose this for our life. Everyone’s family structure is their own business, and none should be considered “non-traditional.”