New 'Non-Traditional' American Families

Your child has a friend whose family structure is one you're uncomfortable with. What do you do? Deal with it as though you were moving to a new neighborhood, suggests David Tseng, executive director of Parents, Families and Friends of Gays ( in Washington, D.C. Be polite, respectful and curious to learn about others in a healthy and constructive way. It's important to recognize that your unspoken response influences your children as much as your spoken one.

Sometimes, you may disapprove of the family structure of one of your children's classmates. Mark Merrill, president of Family First, a non-profit research and communications organization ( headquartered in Tampa, Fla., defines a family as any relationship of marriage, blood or adoption — but he limits that to heterosexuals. At the same time, he recognizes the reality of gay families. His response: "We are supposed to love everybody." And love, in Merrill's book, is not an emotion that leaps unsummoned from the heart. It is a decision to treat others, even those whose lifestyles you don't accept, with kindness and thoughtfulness and serve them in ways that are best for them.

Make a concerted effort within your own extended network of work colleagues and of friends to focus less on those who are like you and more on the diversity. "You want to be clear and deliberate about letting your kids know that this is America, this is the diversity of it and not to make a big deal of it," says James Morris, former president of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy ( and assistant professor of marriage and family at Texas Tech University in Fredricksburg.

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