Since the advent of television, and through numerous movies and books, there has been a single universal image of how families should appear in fiction. The Nuclear Family of one man, one woman, 2.5 children, and a dog, has been ingrained into most of us all our lives.
But the Nuclear Family is no longer so dominant in society. Strictly speaking, if a couple divorces, even if they remarry, they are no longer a Nuclear Family. The traditional family model was flawed and unable to account for even the barest hint of variety. And that’s without even touching on families where the parents are the same sex.
As the lingering stigma surrounding same-sex marriage, single-parents, step-families, and polyamorous relationships is worn down by social change, so too will the assumption that the Nuclear Family is the default gradually fade. More diverse family situations will become common, and it behoves us, as writers, to capture and reflect this in our work.
This is one of the most complex and sensitive topics I’ve discussed here, and there’s no way I can give you everything you need in a single article. So please use these links as a starting point for now, and down the road I’ll try to come back to particular areas and expand on them:
1: 3 Ways to Talk About Nontraditional Family Structures Appropriately – Discussion of non-traditional families is often intrinsically linked to marginalised and oppressed members of society. As such, careless language can be harmful. Learn to use positive, empowering language when tackling these subjects.
2: The New Childhood of the Non-Traditional Family – Certain religious groups and hard-line conservatives will argue that the “traditional” family unit is the most beneficial for children. However, as this article points out, these arguments are flaws, and there are far more important elements that ensure a positive, loving family environment.
3: There’s No Wrong Way – Children’s books can be a great tool for exploring diverse family structures. Whether you want to write one yourself, or are looking for a child’s-eye view at how to portray such a family, check out this list of 30 children’s books dealing with non-traditional families.
4: Writing Gay Characters – Title aside, this article has advice for writing any kind of LGBTQ character, from challenging assumptions about when a gay character might come out, to pointing out that not every same-sex couple will necessarily want children.
5: Lesbian and Gay Parenting – Hopefully there’s no need to point out that there’s no evidence that the children of same-sex parents are at any disadvantage to the children of different-sex parents, but even so, this collection of data and research on the subject from the American Psychological Association might be of interest and provide some inspiration.
6: Polyamory for Writers – Polyamory is easily the most complex and diverse aspect of this article, and I won’t even try to fit all the advice I could into one post. This essay is a good primer on the subject, and it sets you off without any one preconception of what “correct” polyamory is.
That’s all for this week. As I said, these are some sensitive and challenging issues to write about, especially if you have no first-hand experience. I promise to come back to these and expand on them, and in the mean time, remember that no article will ever be a substitute for personal knowledge. If you’re not already a member of a non-traditional family, I guarantee you know people who are. Go and see if they can offer any insight of their own. Until next time!
(c) Paul Anthony Shortt