Pop Culture Sunday: Alternative Families on How I Met Your Mother

So I saw an episode of How I Met Your Mother that I found really interesting. In it two very close friends (both male) who were single and tired of waiting to “find the one” to start a family together decided to adopt a baby together as friends. Obviously by the end of the episode they realised that they were better off waiting for “the one” so that they could marry and have a proper family. I do give credit to the show for raising this issue and talking about it in a reasonable way rather than making it seem totally ludicrous.

In the western world the notion of the nuclear family based around a heterosexual marriage is so entrenched you almost never see alternative families of any kind represented. At least now variations of this nuclear model are starting to be portrayed more frequently in pop culture, families with gay parents for example. At the end of the day however it is still two people who have a sexual relationship with each other raising children.

Does this really need to be the case? In many Asian cultures such as my own, heterosexual marriage is highly important but children are raised by the entire extended family, and everyone feels invested in the children’s upbringing. Why is being a single mother or father not considered a valid or positive choice in starting a family? Why can’t two friends who don’t have a sexual relationship with each other not adopt a child in order to start a family? I know many people who’s friendships are much more stable and long lasting than their romantic relationships.

We have this funny notion that sex and marriage bind families together which is obviously not necessarily the case with one in three marriages ending in divorce. I suppose we believe that marriages and the legal framework surrounding them ensure that someone will always be financially responsible for taking care of the children even if the relationship ends. However the rights and responsibilities of all types of parents could easily be set out in a contract beforehand.

I suppose I am a conservatives worst nightmare in the sense I do seek to destroy marriage as they term it. I do not consider it a destruction but simply a de-privileging of the institution of marriage. I believe there are many types of loving relationships and they should all be respected – marriage should not have to be a requirement in order to create legitimacy legally or socially. Families come in many forms and the sooner we begin to respect that the better off we all will be.

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