My family is part of the 78%

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Chloe J has been a member of the Strong Families Story Collection Street Team since last fall, and has been focused on developing best practices for our story collection project.  Here, she shares her strong families story.

By Chloe J, Story Collection Street Team Member

I am a graduate student sitting in my Family Therapy classroom in Social Work school, learning how to be a therapist and a social worker. The professor talks on and on about families, what they look like, and how to do family therapy. The whole time I think to myself, “I can’t think of a single family that looks like the ones we are talking about.”

Ideas of what families should look like are everywhere. We all know it. We see images of nuclear ‘Leave it to Beaver’ families in the media, legislation, and surprising places like my liberal social work classroom and my $100 text books. But I certainly do not see it in my life and not in the clients I am learning how to work with.

I am queer and I am the child of immigrants. This particular identity combination has pushed me to look at the idea of family in a different light. It has been painful to see my parents, who I thought would always support me emotionally, tell me I am wrong, that I am betraying them, and that I am messing with God and nature-- all because I have dated women.

I could write about how this has affected me for pages, but I will go in a different direction. Due my parents’ inability to love and support the many aspects of who I am, I have formed other connections. I grew close to other people in my life. I have a community of chosen family who support me and love me in ways my parents cannot and will not. Thus, I have formed different ideas of what family can be. 

To me family is people who love and support me for who I am. I love and care about my parents and I know they feel the same way about me, but in addition, I created my own family who help me thrive and grow. I created my own family filled with people who do not care that I am gay. I moved towards people who see and accept more of me. I have two families: my blood family and my chosen family. 

This is also the case with so many other families. 78% of families are not the “Leave it to Beaver” nuclear family. 78% of families in the United States are not married, heterosexual families with biological children (and when class and race are taken into account, the number is even higher). The majority of families are comprised of single parent families, divorced couples, undocumented immigrants, LGBTQ identified, and those of extended families. Yet everything in our media, policies supporting families, and my social work books imply that there is only one type or model of a legitimate recognizable family. 

This is where the Strong Families Story Collection team comes into play. We are collecting stories to bring visibility to the 78% of families that are not seen as legitimate. We are collecting stories to get legislation passed for the 78% of families that don’t have a voice. We are bringing light to the extra vibrancy and struggle that 78% of families have to go through. We are redefining who is legitimate and who is deserving of support. We are redefining family values and instead, honoring our strong families.