Redefining the All-American Family

Most families move out of the city before their first kid to the suburbs. I never wanted that.

We often hear cities like Milwaukee categorized and stereotyped as "the real America." However the definition of the American family is rapidly changing; there are no longer homogeneous standards of “perfect,” “normal,” or “typical.” And through our conversations with young and old individuals in Wisconsin, we came to see and understand the intricacy of families today.

Danti, a 30-year-old mother of four children, comes from a diverse and eclectic family: her mother is Hungarian and her father is Puerto Rican, however she now is closest with her adopted father and step siblings. “It’s the true all American family!” she said. Danti, like many around the country,  are growing up with families that are made up of connections beyond blood. Especially in cities like Milwaukee, that are mid-size but feel small-town, people find families within their friendships, neighborhoods, and communities.

Then there are also those who actively resist confining to traditional family norms. Bridget recently moved out of Milwaukee with her one-year-old and husband to a small town an hour outside due to her husband’s job. While Bridget and her husband are back in their hometown, she yearns to move back to the city: “Most families move out of the city before their first kid to the suburbs. I never wanted that. My child used to have diversity in his preschool. That was one of the things I liked about living in the city.” For people like Bridget, nuclear families are seen as just one influence in how a child is raised and grows up. We heard many times that people wanted their child to be equally impacted by his or her surrounding community, especially a diverse one.   

Brandon also believed in the family being a large, community collective. He is a Kenosha-native who now works in the city at a design studio; he first moved to the city for art school. He had a daughter in high school and relied on his family for support during a time when he was starting a life for himself and his daughter and also building a career to thrive. “I knew going to school was the best way to start our life. My family is extremely close-knit and looks out for one another. The saying ‘It takes a village,’ is so true, but for me, ‘It took Kenosha.’” Even though Brandon’s family is dispersed across the state, it’s comfort nonetheless.     

Today, what was once considered an exception or even a lovably dysfunctional form of family is now the norm. And while many brands are portraying this kind of family life in an effort to say, “We accept you, too,” there’s room to make a statement that more American families (even in the Midwest) are diverging from the classic definition than not. We’ve seen this shift in other media, especially with television shows like “Modern Familiy,” “This Is Us,” “Parenthood,” even something older like “Gilmore Girls.” It’s time that advertising and marketing starts portraying the typically unconventional, all-American family as it is.

Lana Meyer