In Praise of Nontraditional Families

Having a traditional family used to matter a lot to me. My father was the worship pastor at my church and my mother was the choir pianist. They only had two kids, me and my sister, so they were able to secure the American dream of having one of each kind. And we were a happy foursome--content to exist apart from the rocky reality of life. We were the dream team, and I thought my world could never change.

Then I turned 15. I remember being sat down on my parents' bed and told that they were separating. Three awkward years later, they were divorced. The life I knew, the life that meant everything to me, was over.

That was ten years ago. And just last month, we were all together helping my mom pack up the house she was selling to my dad. Yes, all of us: me, my wife, my daughter, my sister, her husband, their son, both grandmothers, an aunt and uncle, my mom, my dad, and my stepmom. That's right, my stepmom is part of my family now. My perfectly normal, not atypical, nontraditional family.

I won't pretend this happened easily or overnight (like I said, ten years). But I have a relationship with my parents now that I doubt I would've had before the divorce. They're more candid with me now about their failures as people which allows me to do the same with them. It's also made me see my own marriage as more precious and fragile than many my age. And most importantly, it's taught me about forgiveness and the many expectations in which we're prone to shroud it.

So as odd as it sounds to say, I'm a stronger person because my parents got divorced. Because of my nontraditional family.

Sadly, this is something the church doesn't seem to understand. Every major issue today is being traced back to the breakdown of the family in America. And whether or not it's actually true, the sentiment exists that the world would be a better place if the traditional family was instituted. On the surface, it's hard to disagree. I certainly have no intention of divorcing my wife just to make my little girl a better person. But the underlying implications have consequences that call the premise into question.

Sociologist, Mark Regnerus, made this abundantly clear with his study on the difference between homosexual and heterosexual families. In it, he claims that children from traditional families turned out significantly better than children with gay parents. It's bad enough that any study would think itself able to demonstrate such nuanced data. It's even worse that the traditional family is being used as a weapon against gay marriage and adoption. But it is absolutely abhorrent that the church would promote what makes a mockery of those who didn't choose to have nontraditional families.

How do single, widowed dads feel when films like Irreplaceable are given national headlines? How do single moms whose husbands walked out on them feel when studies are released that tie the rate of college graduation to involved fatherhood? Or studies that indicate children would have fewer traumatic experiences in life, had their folks stayed together?

No, we can't cater to everyone's emotional needs nor should we devalue the stable family (if you have one, cherish it). But we can't credit well-adjusted people to the traditional family model; that credit belongs solely to God. Otherwise we might be tempted to believe that our prescriptions and paradigms are what have power.


Like my page on Facebook for more Christian skepticism.