Redefining Family

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

According to editor Rebecca Walker, the traditional American nuclear family has changed dramatically over the past three decades. Walker has compiled 18 essays from the new frontiers in American family life in the book One Big Happy Family, which covers everything from open-marriages to gay adoption. We’ll also be joined by two contributors to the anthology, Liza Monroy and Asha Bandele.

Liza Monroy will be giving a reading as part of the Franklin Park Reading series
Franklin Park Beer Garden
Thursday, March 5th @ 8 pm
618 St. Johns Place
Crown Heights, Brooklyn


Asha Bandele, Liza Monroy and Rebecca Walker

Comments [17]

taz tagore from New York NY

I am currently reading the book and am heartened by the "new normal" of family life. Why it has taken this long for us to let go of the notion that nuclear families are superior is frustrating. There are so many ways to nurture and love children--and so often, "alternative" families are equally good, if not better, at sharing, cooperating and finding creative ways to raise healthy children.

Mar. 05 2009 03:24 PM
Leslie from New York City

to JM- "Change" is relative. . . not better or worse. Time will reveal what works and is lasting.

Feb. 24 2009 05:10 PM
Trina from NYC

SteverR you must have not been listening to her because she said they knew each other for years, loved each other a lot, and considered having children together, how is that defined as a sham marriage? it's not like her husband was some random stranger she picked up off the street. It sounds to me like their marriage was more solid than many others & they only divorced because of who her mother was.

Feb. 24 2009 03:54 PM

MichaelB, if divorce had been acceptable in the 50s, I guarantee you my paternal grandmother would have been out of that marriage in a heartbeat.

Divorce statistics don't reflect the state of a relationship. My own parents married very young, and I was actually relieved when they divorced 20 years later. They had grown apart, and I was excited when they found partners who were appropriate for the second phase of their lives. Also, they remained close as friends, which may not have happened if they'd been forced to stay married.

Some people can marry in their 20s and grow old together. Not everyone grows in this way; sometimes if we partner early on, we need a different companion after we've matured. It's not fair to impose the former in the name of "traditional marriages."

Feb. 24 2009 02:03 PM


"Decay of the traditional family"

You say "decay," and I say, "redefine." My grandmother is in her mid-90s, and has seen many changes in her family (including a male to female transgender), and she is remarkably more resilient than many conservatives who feel that only the nuclear family is acceptable. Family reunions include an extensive cast of characters, and it's absolutely wonderful.

I ended up with a stepmother, stepfather, and two more sets of grandparents after my parents' divorce. I ask you, how can you condemn a variation on the traditional model that results in MORE GRANDPARENTS? I lost my mother some time ago, and will now be acquiring a step-step mother (my term for a stepfather remarried).

You don't have to embrace others' families. I just feel sad you can't open yourselves to the possibility.

Feb. 24 2009 01:58 PM
MichaelB from Morningside Heights

Walker is not making sense when she says that the family can't hold together due to ecnonomics. Intact families make sense from an economic sense: 1 rent vs two (or more). What she may mean is that difficult ecnonomics puts stress on the relationship, and the couple cannot deal with that.

In fact, the earlier comment about the high divorce rate my be misguided: the fact that the current divorce rate is high doesn't mean that the idea of a nuclear family is a bad one. Up until relatively recently, the divorce rate was much lower. Perhaps it is other factors, societal factors and invalid expectations that are causing the divorce rate to soar.

Feb. 24 2009 01:54 PM

MichaelB, what about culturally arranged marriages (many of which will cross country lines)? Are these acceptable?

Feb. 24 2009 01:49 PM

To what extent is cultural discourse reflecting today's family structures stymied by commercial media interests?

For instance NPR's economic coverage overwhelming comes from the perspective of a well to do white male individual reality, and casts the average working class family as "the other."

Feb. 24 2009 01:49 PM
Leslie from New York City

"Change" - as described by this guest - represents what? Decay of the traditional family . . . this is very one-sided.

Feb. 24 2009 01:48 PM

Well SteverR, my ex is 20 times more courteous, hard working, and intelligent than the average American man who just happens to have been born in the country. Plus, my family ended up with a new "son," who continues to be loved. I also have a sperm donor if need be. Are illegal aliens OK in your book if they happen to be heterosexual? Would you be judging this situation less harshly if he was a gay citizen? What if I'd married a heterosexual American at the age of 18 just for financial aid?

Do you admonish rich old men who marry obviously young women? Do you really think this is nothing more than a financial arrangement?

This is what marriage meant to me, and like the guest, I feel just as strongly about my own experience as others do about their ex spouses. My marriage actually lasted over 10 years, which is much longer than most of my divorced friends.

Look at all the domestic violence cases across the US, all committed by good ol' American men (and women). How about we deport them? What about deadbeat dads (and moms)?

I'm willing to bet you're reluctant to support any situation beyond the traditional man-woman marriage. It's amazing that some consider the Britney Spears model of marriage preferable to the bonds and love of my own previous marriage.

Feb. 24 2009 01:47 PM
Michael from Green Wood Heights, Brooklyn


Damn the torpedoes! I'm glad that you welcome the angry and negative comments! Your show has a tradition of intellectual pursuit. This invites controversy, which is why I am a devoted fan.

I thank you for doing what you do, and doing it well!

Feb. 24 2009 01:47 PM
emily from brooklyn

I can't wait to read this book. I'm a huge fan of Rebecca Walker and her generous, courageous writings on families. It's wonderful to hear about all of these different ways of being a family on public radio. And thank you, Leonard, for pointing out that non-traditional families and relationships can be very solid and healthy for the people in them.

Feb. 24 2009 01:37 PM
eve from newark

The love of my life and I got married over 11 years ago, so that we could live together in the US (I am a foreigner). But we did not want to be seen as a married couple. We felt too young for this. We felt it was too conservative and did not fit our lifestyle. So we kept our marriage a secret and lived happily as completely committed boyfriend and girlfriend together. After 10 years, we exchanged rings and vows in a desert. After returning home, we told everyone about this bond, because now, we would like to be seen as husband and wife. But 11 years ago, we were simply not ready.

Feb. 24 2009 01:29 PM
SteverR from Manhattan

Your last guest a great example of why we need INS, DHS and strong crackdowns on sham marriages. Who knows who is being allowed to stay in this country because some flighty 20-something thinks she is saving the world.

Feb. 24 2009 01:24 PM
MichaelB from Morningside Heights

I'm sorry but the current speaker and her story is what gets some defenders of "traditional" marriage upset. They take the entire institution too lightly and don't understand the importance of it as a basic building block of our society.

Feb. 24 2009 01:22 PM

My parents actually LOVED my foreign, gay, ex husband. As it turns out, he ended up providing much needed health insurance for 5 years. Plus, I was able to obtain more financial aid for my last year in school.

And you know what? We loved each other, and still do. So we too technically married for love! :P

How is this different from dumb kids in their 20s who marry and divorce within 2 years?

Feb. 24 2009 01:20 PM
rosie from brooklyn

I am thrilled that this book is out there. As the child of a polyamourous couple who is now in an interracial marriage (BW/WM), I appreciate the fact that the family cannot be narrowly defined, and that the decision to live outside the mainstream is sometimes rife with confusion.

Feb. 24 2009 01:15 PM

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