“Normal” but not so “nuclear”
Having been raised by two mothers in an all-female household (my sister is two years my junior), I am particularly aware of the rhetoric attached to the controversial qualification of what does or does not constitute a “regular American family.” At first glance, it’s easy to look back at our country’s history and see nothing but the same. The same whitewashed house here, the same well-manicured lawn there, an apple pie on every kitchen counter.
However, despite our ostensibly hegemonic culture, a number of variations of the nuclear family have emerged as ubiquitous signs of progress. In our constantly evolving society, where new waves of immigration shift our nation’s demography every few decades, where both international and domestic adoption is becoming increasingly accessible, and where divorce rates are skyrocketing, the idea of a “nuclear” family is no longer synonymous with “normal.”
In truth, and expressly in regards to family, normalcy is – or at least should be – primarily contingent upon a sense of stability and security. In an ideal system, seemingly defining characteristics, such as a guardian’s race, sexual orientation, or biological connection to their child, would be trumped by the right of all children to feel loved, safe and secure. Such superficial traits – as both anecdotal evidence and psychological studies have shown – have absolutely no bearing on a guardian’s ability to provide familial stability and nourishment. In layman’s terms, and speaking from personal experience, it seems to me that once these three factors – love, safety and security – are provided, everything else sort of falls into place.
If I’m honest, there were certainly some things that were different about my upbringing. For example, I am probably forever doomed to a life of forgetting to check if the toilet seat is down or not. Yet despite some early morning inconvenience in college, I’d hardly call it debilitating (although this foible has claimed a number of causalities, including approximately half a dozen cell phones!). When it comes down to it though, my emotional development; my feeling whole and loved, cared for and accepted (the true qualifications of parenthood) have never been for want.
I remember working at summer camp a few years ago and a camper asked why I never talked about my father. After explaining to the eight-year-old camper the ways in which our family dynamics varied, she looked at me incredulously for a few seconds before making a final verdict. “But…you don’t look like you have two moms. I mean, I couldn’t even tell that you didn’t have a dad. You just seem like everybody else.”
And isn’t that the point?
Leah Dawson is a participant in the Machon Kaplan Summer Social Action Internship Program. She is interning at Pride at Work, a constituency group of the AFL-CIO that works to mobilize mutual support between organized labor and the LGBT community.