“It’s not like Heather has two mommies,” Mr. Russell said. “It’s George has two families.”
Two addresses, three adults, a winsome toddler and a mixed-breed dog officially named Buck the Dog. None of this was the familial configuration any of them had imagined, but it was, for the moment, their family. It was something they had stumbled into, yet had a certain revisionist logic.
Such is the hiccupping fluidity of the family in the modern world. Six years running now, according to census data, more households consist of the unmarried than the married. More people seem to be deciding that the contours of the traditional nuclear family do not work for them, spawning a profusion of cobbled-together networks in need of nomenclature. Unrelated parents living together, sharing chores and child-rearing. Friends who occupy separate homes but rely on each other for holidays, health care proxies, financial support.
“Some of the strictures that were used to organize society don’t fit human change and growth,” said Ann Schranz, chairwoman of the Alternatives to Marriage Project, a 10-year-old organization. “What matters to us is the health of relationships, not the form of relationships.”
And so here on Plaza Street, four people are testing the fuzzy boundaries of an age-old institution, knowing there is no single answer to what defines family or what defines love.
Griffin, now almost 3, calls Mr. Russell “Uncle George” and Mr. Nimmons “Dave.” At some point, Ms. Einhorn intends to tell her son the truth. Mr. Russell worries about that moment. He never wanted to be a parent; he saw the sperm donation as a favor to a friend. He did not attend the birth or Griffin’s first birthday party. His four sisters were trying to figure out whether they were aunts.
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