American Families Will Adapt

No matter where you come from, family is key to shaping our lives. But what is family? Is it solely biological relatedness or is it based on conceptual relationships? Kinship ties and our ideas about what family actually means are changing as time progresses. For the most part, we have learned that family consists of a mother, father and their biological offspring; this is called the nuclear family. It is part of the biogenetic model that has been at the core of American culture’s view of family. In our society today, we see many attitudes change concerning the ideas of family structure. But does that mean that we have moved away from the biogenetic model or is the model still going strong as the central theme in regards to familial ties?

The author Linda J. Seligmann in Broken Links, Enduring Ties: American Adoption Across Race, Class, and Nation touches on the model as a driving force for families. Family defined as strictly a biological link has had some hits with the popularization of cross-racial, cross-national adoptions by celebrities. Structures in our society such as legislation allowing same-sex couples to legally wed challenge the biogenetic model. With the help of mass media, there is an assumption that people are moving away from the biogenetic model, but I believe it is still at the core of Western society. The influence by the media has the capacity to change perceptions of kinship ties that would make people re-think the agency and structure in the meaning of kinship. By agency, I’m referring to the expression or collection of non-structural human behavior.

The new generations of parents inadvertently indoctrinate their children into the biogenetic model. For example, same-sex couple Neil Patrick Harris and his husband David Burtka have started their family using their sperm and a surrogate. Even though they are same-sex parents and fall outside of the biogenetic model, by using a surrogate, they are in fact reinforcing the biogenetic model by having biological children (twins). Another example is Ricky Martin, a single homosexual father who used a surrogate for his twins. He is at one end of the spectrum, showing an opposition to the biogenetic model but he is reinforcing it at the same time by having biological children.

Some adoptive parents as mentioned in Seligmann’s book also follow the biogenetic model by adopting children that can pass as their own biological offspring. On the other hand, there are adoptive parents that adopt cross-racially and seem to break from the model.

Personally, my family does not follow the nuclear family ideal as mentioned above. The author Linda Stone in Kinship and Gender: An Introduction brings up these “new” kinds of families that do not fit into the nuclear family model. For example, the single parent family is one of the variances the author mentions. My family fits into this category because my mother was a single parent.

All of this “family-talk” goes hand in hand with meanings of kinship. Stone showcases various types of family practices and ideas of kinship cross-culturally. The framework of many ideas of kinship among other cultures seem to have a sense of agency within the structure of kinship that at least to me seem fluid and changeable. It is interesting to note how Western familial ties go hand in hand with the biogenetic model. With all the different views of kinship, I believe that American culture will change and adapt what kinship means to us.

With a sense of modernity in Western society, traditional views seem to be ethnocentric since most of our ideals were seen as superior to other societies in comparison. With contemporary ideals of modernity, American society now sees cross-cultural inclusiveness in the media that directly influences Western ideals of global awareness. I think that this gives the us the opportunity for our values to change, make progress and remake ourselves. All in all, I believe that the biogenetic model remains the central force behind ideas of family. I also can see our ideas of kinship change as our society becomes more aware and acknowledge these new types of families that do not fit the nuclear family norm.

by Jose Leanos

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