Shedding the Myth of the Nuclear Family

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Family plays an enormous role in the development of a human being. Whether it is food, shelter or the basic exchange of ideas and emotions, a child needs close, personal relationships to ensure a successful upbringing. But what defines a family?

The traditional model is that of a man and woman, presumably married, and their children—the so-called “nuclear family.” This term was popularized in the 1950s and helped perpetuate a perceived ideal of a norm, a heteronorm. Anything else became taboo.

Today, that ideal is at odds with the reality, which is that half of American adults are unmarried with 41 percent of children born under these circumstances. Many parents identify as something other than heterosexual. The paradigm is definitely shifting, and there are now numerous loving and fulfilling alternatives to the nuclear family.

No one knows this more than Dawn Pieke, a salesperson from Nebraska who at 40 decided to carry and co-parent a child with a man she met online. Co-parenting is the joint act of raising a child, but without a sexual relationship. There are surprising benefits to co-parenting, namely that the joy of child-rearing is shared without the burden of romantic turmoil.

Pieke’s partner, who at the time went by Fabian Blue, shared the same enthusiasm for raising a child and eventually moved from his native Australia to the U.S. to give it a try. The two made a lasting connection and had Indigo Pieke-Blue in October of 2012 through artificial insemination.

Peike and Blue shared their remarkable journey in a short film entitled “The Story of Indigo,” which Blue describes as “a cyber-age storybook for my two year-old daughter Indigo.” Initially for “her eyes only,” he decided to share it with the world.

This year, the family became even less typical: Fabian, who had always identified as a gay man, began transitioning to a woman. He is now Kal-Elle Jagger, making Indigo the daughter of two mothers—a biological woman and a transwoman. This is pretty far from the nuclear family, and yet it works beautifully. BTRtoday spoke to Dawn Pieke about her extraordinary family.

“I think the nuclear family is just now one type of family to have. It isn’t necessarily the norm any longer,” she says. Indigo, who is now three years-old, appreciates her family no matter how they present themselves. Gender is irrelevant to her, and so too is the traditional family structure.

“No,” Pieke says. “As long as there is love for the children, that is what matters most.” Her notion of a family is a new ideal. “A family can be any number of people, related or not, who help one another and love each other.” It’s hard to argue with that.

And yet there is a constant push from conservative groups like Focus on the Family and the Heritage Foundation to promote the message of this outdated nuclear family. Is there a threat now more than ever to that way of life?

“I think it’s important to have many views on what family is,” Pieke says, “but it should not be pushed as what should be the norm for everyone. That’s where it crosses the line.” In other words, maybe there is no norm at all.

If there is one rule, she insists, it is love. “I would like to continue co-parenting, of course, with Fabian, now Kal-Elle,” Pieke says, “and insure Indigo continues to know she is so very much loved by both her parents.”