Non-Traditional Family Norms
What’s the Difference?
Many of us can remember riding our bikes around the neighborhood, sometimes stopping outside a house that seems especially mysterious to us. Who lives there? What is their life like? Maybe two older women live there and you sometimes see them on walks together; maybe one woman lives there with her child and she doesn’t have time to cut the grass, so the yard looks scary and wild; maybe the inhabitant rarely comes out of the house due to a disability or mental health issue. But, as kids, we rarely came up with sensible or respectful stories for the people that live in “that house on the corner.” Because these people didn’t belong to a “normal” family, because maybe they didn’t go outside too often, because they might have looked different, just because we didn’t understand their lives, we gave their lives a stigmatized meaning. We named them as “other.”
Today, most of us recognize that families don’t always look the same. Sure, a lot of privilege is still assigned to families that fit a certain “Brady Bunch” mold, but members of non-traditional families, single mothers, and people with disabilities, are not the pariahs they once were made out to be. In large part due to social media, people now have platforms to share their beliefs and connect with others who share the same values or experiences. On Instagram, on Twitter, we can peruse account after account made by organizations and individuals who are finally sharing their stories to hundreds, thousands, sometimes even hundreds of thousands of people. For a long time, attaining the status of a “normal,” traditional family was an important way for people to connect with each other (a neighborhood block party, joint-family skiing trips, husband-wife double dates), but there is now opportunity for families who once and may still seem “different” to come together as peers and supports for one another.
People are talking. And more people are listening. From podcasts, to blogs, to Instagram accounts, to news stories, the conversation around what it means to be “normal,” or more importantly, what it means to have value, is growing. Here are some people that work hard to keep this conversation going.
● She’s a queer, disabled woman who writes a blog called “The Feeding of the Fox.”
● Her instagram account @the_feeding_of_the_fox documents her journey from a sad existence filled with eating disorders and body dysmorphia to a full life geared toward self-acceptance and body positivity.
● In her blog posts, Fox often poses for photos alone and in her underwear, her feeding tube dangling from her stomach in most pictures.
● Fox asks thought-provoking questions of her readers
○ “Why do we not talk about the mental health of those with physical impairment?”
○ “Heals, flats, make up, no make up, statement jewelry, facial piercing, no bra; short skirt, no bloody knickers!? Doesn't matter. You do you and let others worry about them selves.“
● Most of all, Fox prompts conversations about access for disabled people and writes about the power she’s found in radical self-love.
● Mohamed Bzeek’s story was featured in the LA Times in 2017.
● Bzeek adopts and take care of terminally ill children.
● Born in Libya, Bzeek and his late wife Dawn opened their home in Azusa, California to foster children in 1989. In the mid-1990’s, the Bzeeks decided to care specifically for terminally ill children.
● “The key,” Bzeek says, “is to love them like your own. I know they are sick. I know they are going to die. I do my best as a human being and leave the rest to God.” (link to LA Times)
● Bzeek rarely leaves his house, spending almost all of his time nurturing the sick children he has devoted his life to; he only leaves his house to visit the hospital and to go to the Mosque for Friday prayers.
● Born with Diastrophic Dysplasia (deformities of the legs, arms, hands, and feet), Geri Mariano was abandoned by her biological parents in the hospital.
● She was adopted into a loving home and fitted with prosthetic legs, but nonetheless, her childhood bore countless struggles.
● On her website, Mariano talks about always feeling “different”--whether it came to “the horrendous teenage, adolescent, puberty period of shattering self-confidence” or her futile search to find a job.
● Now Geri travels across the country, talking to groups of students about understanding diversity and handling obvious and/or subtle discrimination.
● Analyn Erin is a single mother of three, an amputee, and a two-time cancer survivor.
● She writes a blog called “A series of deep breaths,” where she shares her experiences, frustrations, successes, and so much more.
● Erin also posts on Instagram where she shares pictures of her scars, her family, and her joys and struggles in life.
The common denominator in the stories of Imogen, of Mohamed, of Geri, and of Analyn is not that they’ve all struggled. It’s not even that they’re “different.” It’s that in each of their stories, a desire for connection stands out as perhaps the most prominent need. When a person can find connection with others, when a person understands that they’re seen and have value, that’s when the work really starts. That’s where a person and a community start to grow.