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What Makes a Family?

By Isabel Kallman

This week’s column comes courtesy of Liz Gumbinner, author of Mom-101.

This past Sunday, if you had nothing better to do like say alphabetize your underwear by color or roll around in the rose petals strewn about your bed for Mother’s Day, you might have tuned into a show on NBC called America’s Top Mom.

While watching, you may have very well gasped audibly as they paraded out the nominees in a category called “non-moms”– the moniker given to those parents who had adopted their children. You know, non-moms; the ones who non-feed their children and non-clothe them and non-kiss their non-boo-boos with non-love, which may in fact be a laboratory-created chemical substitution for actual love.

It boggles the mind that not one of the writers, producers, hosts, sponsors, or network suits ever considered for two seconds how asinine the description was. (“Jennifer has one of her own children and SIX ADOPTED METH BABIES! Let’s give her a hand!”) Yet they didn’t. And so a slew of “non-moms” were introduced on network television to millions of households as just that.

I am amazed that with adoption on the front pages of even the entertainment rags of late, that families who come together this way are still perceived as such an oddity; an “alternative” family situation that needs description as such.

The myth of the mom and dad with their 2.3 biologically conceived children is so long past, that when I think of it, the only imagery in my head is in black and white. Granted I live in NYC, but my own relatively small circle of mom friends includes women who are single by choice, lesbian and single by choice, parents who have adopted, or simply those in committed domestic partnerships sans ring, as I am.

Even for me, it’s getting harder to answer the question, what makes a family?

Now here’s where things really start getting fun.

Yesterday the state supreme court upheld the constitutional right for same-sex couples to marry.
The California ruling is fantastic news for committed gay couples of course, but also for their loved ones who no longer have to trek out to ceremonies in Massachusetts where you can’t even buy champagne after 11 if you run out. Most of all, I’m excited about the benefits for all the children of same-sex parents who will be impacted. These kids will be finally reaping both the legal and emotional benefits of parents whose relationship is now equal to any other under law.

Families are changing faster than we know how to define them. Faster than the board books, the Yo Gabba Gabba! segments, the third grade lesson plans can keep up with them.

At times I’m at a loss to answer even the most basic questions from my almost three year-old about relationships. I can’t fall back on answers like “A marriage is when a man and a woman…” or “Mommies are people who had babies…” I can’t even say “One day, when you get married, you might want to have a baby too.” Because maybe one day, she might want to have a baby and not get married. And provided she’s 36, that would be just fine with me.

So my question is this: How do you talk to your children about what constitutes a family? If you’ve got the basic mom-dad-kids combo in your own household do you still talk about it in terms of what other people do? Do issues like adoption, same-sex marriage or single parenting factor into the discussion?

And if so, can you swing by my house and help me out a little?

About the Author

Isabel Kallman

Isabel Kallman is the founding mom of

Feel free to send nice emails to isabel[at]alphamom[dot]com.


Isabel Kallman is the founding mom of

Feel free to send nice emails to isabel[at]alphamom[dot]com.

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