Is your family normal?

On Sunday afternoon I discovered that our family is not normal.

A few days earlier a college freshman contacted us on the recommendation of her professor, who knows our family, to ask whether she could stop by to ask us a few questions and take some photos.  She told us that her journalism project focused on families in their different forms.  “Sure,” we said, “come on by.”

Eliot was in a chatty mood when she arrived so Maggie distracted him while our guest began asking me questions.  We mostly talked about adoption, including how we arrived at the decision to adopt.  She asked thoughtful questions, not just about the facts of the adoption but how we experienced those facts.

At some point I asked about the scope of her project.  We were the last family she was going to interview; previous interviews included a classmate who grew up “with two mothers” and lots of friends who grew up in single-parent homes.  She had chosen to focus on families that weren’t considered normal.

Don't be fooled! This family isn't normal.

At that moment I realized, She thinks our family is abnormal.

The rest of the student’s visit was very pleasant; she took a bunch of photos of Eliot playing with blocks and promised to send a few once her work was finished.

This interaction has been turning itself over in my mind over the past couple of days.  I’ve been wondering: What so pestered me about the ‘not normal’ category our little family has been placed in?

Most obvious is the word itself.  After all, does anyone consider their family normal?  As a pastor I’ve talked with many people who appear normal to me, but whose story is anything but.  I doubt our family would seem normal to me even if Maggie and I had biological children.  Normal is what other people are.  Right?

That there are categories for abnormal families has also been interesting to consider.  This student considers adoptive families, single-parent families, and same-sex parented families as outside the norm.  Depending on one’s perspective this list could be very different.  But for most of us there are categories and we know where different types of families fall.

But perhaps it is because I grew up in the family perceived as most normal in America- a mother and father who remain married, one biological sister, white -that I’m now struck with the idea of falling outside the norm.  There’s a bit of fear in this realization, knowing that our family will be learning as we go.

Is your family normal?  Are there types of families you consider more or less normal? These are the questions on my mind these days and I’m curious what ideas, questions, and perspectives you could contribute.

Author: David Swanson

Pastor of New Community Covenant Church in Bronzeville. Collecting signs of life.

11 thoughts on “Is your family normal?”

  1. Its the concept of normality that concerns me. People and the families they form come in a broad spectrum of different characters and backgrounds. Every family will have some features which will strength and some that will weaken, but labeling some as normal and other inevitably as abnormal doesn’t help any of them, certainly not those labelled abnormal.

    God gifted us a family ideal — a mother, father and some children. Any other arrangement will introduce weaknesses, but so would a workaholic father or a depressed mother. Every family has its own strengths and weaknesses. Many who appear normal and are labelled as such by their community have weaknesses that almost overwhelm them, when they do get overwhelmed, we are shocked and disbelieving.

    1 Corinthians 7:17 Nevertheless, each person should live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to them, just as God has called them.

    Normality is about working out God’s call in our circumstances. Notions of the perfect family, or labels – dysfunctional, mixed race, handicapped, autistic, adopted can often get in the way.

    I pray that the Holy Spirit will encourage you and the discouragement of being labelled “not normal” will fade. Thank you for sharing the consequences of an implied labeling on your heart. I am reminded how easy it is to discourage someone by implying a label, even without any intent to do so.

  2. oh, we are very, very normal 🙂

    (by which comment I intend only to assuage any hesitation you might have about the category you got sutck in)

  3. In order to answer the question “Is your family normal?” we would need to define normal. The range of families that are normal is much larger than the range that are typical. Wouldn’t normal include all the families that are healthy and functional? Certainly your family appears to be healthy and to meet the needs of its members. Typical is different—typical would include just the families that fit a certain image (perhaps a fictional image from the media…), the families that look just like they are supposed to look.

    So then we ask, “What is the function of a family?” Ideas? To provide a secure place for children to grow, learn, develop? A place for all its members to refreshed, comforted, built up, and challenged (as needed), for them to be able to minister to the community around the family? Is the family to be a microcosm of the church?

    It would be interesting to read what others think defines a normal family, a typical family, and a functional family. (Having never taken a sociology class, it would even benefit from learning the real definitions of them…)

  4. first of all, thanks so much for being so kind to her. she said you were so helpful (i knew you would be) and that she had the best time with eliot (duh). to clarify from my end, she did not ask me to recommend families that are “abnormal” or “not normal.” she was looking for families with mixed-race adoptions, among other types, and she was having some trouble finding sources. i thought you guys would be great—if only to see eliot in a photo slideshow as part of my student’s project. as for the normal/abnormal issue, i feel like a weirdo most of the time, so naturally, i think my globetrotting, immigrant family is also not normal.

    1. Your student couldn’t have been more respectful and kind to our family. We genuinely enjoyed our time with her. It was more the content of her project that got me thinking about these things.

      As an aside, I’d be super interested to see her final project if that were a possibility.

  5. first of all, that is such an amazing shot of you guys! you all look so…fulfilled and happy.

    secondly, my family is not normal, by any means. i mean, it is 2 heterosexual individuals raising 2 daughters but there are so many other things like our ethnicity, immigrant status, and the way my family interacts that are “abnormal”.

    another thought i had was that enough though you were raised in a “normal” family, i’m sure there were things your family did that were unique only to your household. as in, i feel like just because you were from a 4-person white family, doesn’t make you all uninteresting because diversity (or abnormality) can mean so many things.

  6. Well, first of all you three are the cutest abnormal family ever! 🙂 Secondly, I don’t really think there are any “normal” families. Normal is boring. Each family is as unique as the individuals that make that family.

  7. What does God consider normal? We are made in His is image with gifts and talents to live lifes that make an eternal diference in the lifes we touch. Normal/abnormal…who knows. If God created us for a purpose and we are pursuing that purpose, is that considered “normal”? In the BIG picture, as Christians I don’t believe we are called to be what the world would consider “normal”.

    The other thought that comes to mind is, would your family be considered more “normal” if Eliot were caucasion? There’s a sad reality. We have had to deal with that.having adopted 2 hispanic children. It’s never been a problem for Patrick or myself, but there have been times that it has been a problem for our children. People can be so unkind.

    Adopting is not the norm. Adopting a child of a different race is even more abnormal. You have to remember that just a generation ago, couples who adopted, often did so in secret. Some never told anyone. When the decision is made to adopt outside your race, it’s pretty obvious. It’s out there and cannot be a secret. Thankfully, it’s becoming more and more common. I believe an orphan is an orphan and a family is a family and as Chrisians we are called to care for the orphons. There are over 1/2 million orphans living in foster homes in America. The harvest is ready, but the workers are few.

  8. Thanks to each of you for sharing your perspective. Many of you have confirmed my suspicions that none of us experience our families as normal, whether or not others perceive us that way.

    I continue to be interested in a larger cultural assumption (if there is such a thing) about which families are normal. That was the interesting moment on Sunday: realizing this student had an idea about who was and wasn’t normal and that she’d placed us in the not-normal category. To be clear, this wasn’t malicious on her part. In fact, I think the nature of our trans-racial, adoptive family was appealing to her.

    Some of you have mentioned the church as an alternative space where family is redefined and where we are all normal and abnormal at the same time. I think about this a lot and am grateful that our family is a part of this larger, non-traditional family.

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