The phrase “nuclear family” most likely conjures up freeze-frames from some early-'60s household sitcom: a happily married couple (white, heterosexual, etc.), a handful of children who meet the same criteria, a big-eared dog with a loveable affinity for peeing on valuable textiles, and, in the background, a pie (America!).
That said, it should come as no surprise that Erica Chito Childs, professor of sociology at Hunter College, claims the “nuclear” moniker has been rendered, well, useless. “We’ll use words like ‘family of procreation’ vs. ‘family of choice,’” she says, “but my students, for the most part, already come in believing there’s no such thing as a nuclear family.”
As she sees it, when divorce rates skyrocketed, split households became the new normal — stepparents and stepsiblings became a part of our understanding of the typical family. From there, things have snowballed. We’re part of an increasingly mobile generation — we're chasing jobs and graduate programs and partners across the country, bidding less-than-tearful goodbyes to our childhood homes. We live out our lives on social media, and there, we're celebrating single parenthood, childlessness, and — perhaps most devotedly — chosen families.
So what, then, in 2019, does “family” even look like? We know it’s nuanced, we know it varies, we know it’s constantly in flux — but what is the broader, unifying factor (beyond biology, that is)? Is it about shared time? Money? “I was adopted, and I never got in touch with my birth mom,” says Maggie D., 53, now a mother living in Los Angeles. “I don’t think about it often; my actual mom, the one that raised me, takes up so much space in my life.” For her, family is a matter of involvement — it’s about the woman who raised her rather than the one who birthed her. For 24-year-old Xavier C. in Connecticut, family is built of four stepsiblings and two biological ones, all living under the same roof. “I don’t remember what it was like before we were all there,” he says. “And now, if there are less than six of us, it feels quiet.” For 29-year-old Amber M., based in New York City, family isn’t about biology at all. “I was raised by my best friend’s family,” she explains. “And they’ve been the best version of family I could ask for.”
As it seems, the loosening of our traditional conceptions of family is making space for a whole new definition. “From a sociological perspective, this is a great thing,” says Childs. “It’s about pursuing healthy, supportive relationships of our own accord.” Rather than a tragic departure from the old, “wholesome” sitcom household, our move towards blended, chosen, and otherwise nontraditional families is a positive shift.
With that in mind, we partnered with Fox's Almost Family — a new show celebrating the absolute joy that accompanies widening and reconfiguring our family units — to poll 865 of our readers aged 18 to 54, from all across the country, about what shape “family” takes for them. We asked about single parents, blended families, and nontraditional caretakers. About sibling relationships, chosen families, ancestry, and adoption. Below, take a look at what we learned — and revel in our notion of the NEW nuclear family.
Tune into the Almost Family premiere on Fox: October 2 at 9/8c