What's wrong with the "Non-Traditional Family?" Skip to the content

What’s wrong with the "Non-Traditional Family?"

Have you heard the phrase “Non-Traditional Family” when being marketed or sold to? Perhaps you have and haven’t noticed or perhaps you have and you cringe when you hear that phrase? Either way we are going to talk about the Non-Traditional Family today. This is an area of interest to me because for my undergraduate degree I minored in sociology and loved every minute of every class (yes even the Summer class I took called “On death and dying” – I kid you not.) I love watching people and I love understanding what makes people tick from a sociological perspective.

Before I get into what a non-traditional family is, let’s talk about the nuclear family. I am going to hit you with a long definition. If you know what a nuclear family is just skip past it. According to Wikipedia, the nuclear family is defined as;

“a term used to define a family group consisting of a pair of adults and their children. This is in contrast to a single-parent family, to the larger extended family, and to a family with more than two parents. Nuclear families typically center on a married couple, but not always;[1] the nuclear family may have any number of children. There are differences in definition among observers; some definitions allow only biological children that are full-blood siblings,[2] while others allow for a stepparent and any mix of dependent children including stepchildren and adopted children.[3][4]

Family structures of one married couple and their children were present in Western Europe and New England in the 17th century, influenced by church and theocratic governments.[5] With the emergence of proto-industrialization and early capitalism, the nuclear family became a financially viable social unit.[6] The term nuclear family first appeared in the early twentieth century. Alternative definitions have evolved to include family units headed by same-sex parents,[1] and perhaps additional adult relatives who take on a cohabiting parental role;[7] in this latter case it also receives the name of conjugal family.[1]

The concept that a narrowly defined nuclear family is central to stability in modern society has been promoted by familialists who are social conservatives in the United States, and has been challenged as historically and sociologically inadequate to describe the complexity of actual family relations.[8]

So as you can see a nuclear family has evolved to mean a variety of things. In my undergraduate college days (about 10 years ago) a nuclear family was simply thought to be an opposite sex married household with 2.5 full blooded biological children (with 1 dog, 1 cat and a white picket fence). Now it encompasses more depending on who is giving the definition as you can see above. An AdAge article from June 2011 notes the 2010 Census found 1.3 million fewer nuclear families. The more powerful statistic though is that this is the only household type to decline over the past decade.

Now let’s talk about what a Non-Traditional Family is. According to Wikipedia…

“the term blended family or stepfamily describes families with mixed parents: one or both parents remarried, bringing children of the former family into the new family.[19] Also in sociology, particularly in the works of social psychologist Michael Lamb,[20] traditional family refers to “a middleclass family with a bread-winning father and a stay-at-home mother, married to each other and raising their biological children,” and nontraditional to exceptions from this rule. Most of the US households are now non-traditional under this definition.[21]

Do you see that bold sentence above? Most of the US households are now non-traditional under this definition. It appears that the idea of a non-traditional family is on its way out because our society is very robust and blended now. We have families of all ethnic backgrounds, gender backgrounds, adopted children, biological children, divorced families, same sex couples – you name it.

So, why do companies feel the need to isolate LGBT families and put them in the bucket of a Non-Traditional Family? I was in a discovery meeting with potential clients who are financial advisors (definitely the top industry that seeks out my advice). They were very genuine for wanting to reach out to the LGBT community and they point blank asked me my opinion on the term non-traditional. My knee-jerk response was “I don’t like it.” Then I said here’s why. By singling me out and marketing to my wife and kids as a non-traditional family you are saying to me, that our family is not part of the norm. That we don’t conform to society’s view of normal. As you can see by the definition above the norm is now families that are not the definition of the nuclear family.

By using this term you are sending the LGBT community a message that says you are different and we want to call you out on that. My family is a family just like anyone else’s. I personally don’t like being called non-traditional and know many others who don’t as well. I’m not sure what marketing person in what financial institution decided that this would be good terminology to put on marketing materials to the LGBT community – but I’m afraid they’ve gone down the wrong road. I searched extensively to see what types of professions are using this terminology and it’s accounting, legal, financial services. Not all of them, but many of them. And many big name firms. I state quite frequently that marketing must be inclusive. If you want a better handle on what inclusion based marketing is you can read my blog about it or listen to episode 11 of my podcast. Either will help you get a better perspective of why inclusion based is the way to go.

Using the phrase non-traditional in your marketing/advertising outreach is essentially a way of segregating the LGBT audience which is not going to help bring in new business from the community.


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About Jenn T. Grace

Jenn T. Grace (she/her/hers) is an award-winning author and founder and CEO of Publish Your Purpose (PYP), the acclaimed hybrid publisher of non-fiction books. Jenn has published 100+ books written by thought leaders, visionaries, and entrepreneurs who are striving to make a difference. Jenn T. Grace’s work elevates and amplifies the voices of others—especially marginalized groups who are regularly excluded from traditional publishing.

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