To many of us when we think of Family we immediately bring to mind a mom and dad one or more children. The model is for a heterosexual couple practicing monogamy whose children are cisgender and straight. This would seem to be the model and in fact it is still a cultural norm, well sort of......
This model doesn't recognize the parents who have sexual relations outside of their marriage, it ignores the serialized monogamy that produces step families, the children (and parents) who hide their same sex and/or transgender identities. These are just a few of the variations of family life.
Culturally we have shamed and punished single parent families, and ignore the struggles of step or "blended," families. We fear what to do when a family member openly declares, without toxic shame, that they are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender.
Now some adults are practicing consensual non-monogamy or polyamory where they freely love more than one other adult openly and unapologetically.
What is good about this is that the families that we think of as "traditional." are free to continue as they choose, and now others who know that their hearts, minds, and spirits find love and happiness in the "non-traditional."
Below we present resources for those who are truly finding "love outside of the box."
Blended or Step-Parent Families
Once they were only referred to as step families the idea of a parent and one or more children beginning a new household living arrangement with another adult, with or without additional children are now often referred to as a Blended family. Changing the label however didn't solve the problem that the PEW research organization and others who look at family statistics note that 60% to 70% of blended families result in divorce. Though this is a high number, over the past 20 years there has been a lengthening of 1st marriages and a reduction in divorces.
There is a bit of old wisdom for the adult entering into an existing parent/child(ren) family, "Don't change the light bulb wattage for at least a year." The incoming adult, and any children coming in with them, seem well advised to not change too much in the way that the resident family does things. Its tricky business for sure.
Even with the dismal statistics, there is hope for long term success and that following the guidance of the researchers on what tends to make Blending a family work. It appears that strong family relationships can act as a buffer to some of the stressors that may cause more extreme emotional reactions. Kids who report closeness with their biological parent and stepparent at home tend to feel less stress during the family transition to stepfamily life.
Here are some resources to help learn more AND the use of a professional counselor is highly recommended.
National Stepfamily Resource Center provides many resources, so click this link first.
Step and Blended Family Institute is another rich resource site of links and information.
Single Parent Families
The graphic at the right indicates the household
composition for two and single parent families.
While there are roughly 5 and 1/2 times as many
mothers raising children by themselves, there is
a significant number of children being raised in
father only households as well as a significant
number living without either biological parent,
usually living with a close relative often a grand-
There is still a social stigma attached to single
parent families which adds difficulties, there
are the impacts of a single income adult,
inadequate childcare resources, housing that
prefers the two income household, and that
doesn't begin to touch the difficulty of not
having another adult in the home share the load.
Here are some of the resources that we've
found useful across the country:
Very Well Families has an explanation of the public programs that are available. Though the page says the
resources are for mothers, fathers can also use most of these resources.
Single Mother Grants is another site that works nationally to help identify resources public and private that can help with bills, rent, mortgages, and more.
Single and Parenting: this site goes beyond economic resources and covers some of the tough issues on the family side of the parenting process.
The Father Hood is a great resource for single dads. Its light and informative with ideas on everything from packing the perfect kid lunch for school, dealing with co-parenting. Fatherhood not a burden but a gift that keeps giving. Great and inspiring stories.
Polyamory, is the practice of engaging in multiple romantic (and typically sexual) relationships, with the consent of all the people involved. This form of relationship has been around for centuries yet it has not been openly practiced in the U.S. until the last couple of decades. Even then, those who engage in "poly," relationships generally to make the condition of their relationships widely known because of societies lack of acceptance of anything other than strict monogamy. Where versions of Polyamory have been practiced it was usually under a religious context, like the original style of some families in the LDS (Mormon) church.
Participants in Polyamorous relationships are usually committed to each other emotionally as they define their relationship, the boundaries for each and collectively. Traditional labels like "cheating." lose meaning when everyone involved knows about the other and their relationship to each other.
Its a big and bold new way of redefining loving relationships among adults. The children of one of more of the adults involved continue to be well cared for and researchers like Elizabeth Sheff are currently working on collecting the stories of the children with parents involved in polyamory.
This is a big topic and discussion so here are some resources to aid in your exploration:
To understand the basics, this is an article from Psychology Today: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/
Elizabeth Sheff is Sociologist who has been doing detailed investigation into the actual lives of persons who participate in Polyamory. Any of her several books and resource pages provide a broad and detailed look into the lives of Poly-people.
The Ethical Slut is a book with a title that shocks some people as it reclaims a word, slut, that historically refers to someone with no or little sexual boundaries, but when tied to the notion of ethics its a whole new concept. The Ethical Slut is in its 3rd edition and so has received a lot of interest. Janet Hardy and Dossie Eaton are the authors and present a clear look as what works well and what will ruin a poly-relationship.