I have always been inspired by women who think outside of the box, and as I grow older (and wiser), I find that now I am drawn to women who also encourage others to live lives more fully and authentically their own. Women who are pulling back the façade that there are many ways to do things, more than one way to live and more than one way to be.
Years ago I came across The New Family, a blog and podcast created by long-time parenting editor and writer Brandie Weikle to speak to a new generation of parents. The blog is a resource for today’s modern family and the 1,000 Families Project was born from Brandie’s own modern family and is an inspiring collection of stories highlighting the many ways we can be a family. My own story, “Defining Motherhood,” was featured in 2015 and I was grateful for the opportunity to reflect on my experiences as a mother.
Through her writing and her podcast Brandie is regularly challenging her audience to think about parenting and family issues that ultimately shape how we see and view the world around us. It is by bringing to the forefront uncomfortable subject matter, and providing alternative perspectives, Brandie and her guest experts encourage the audience to be reflective, empathic and considerate.
Women like Brandie are changing the way we view families – whether it be how we view our own family (giving us permission to live differently than our parents modelled for us) or opening our minds and hearts to our neighbours – by starting this dialogue.
Today Plenty turns the tables on Brandie and asks her some questions about what she thinks is the future of the family.
Plenty: The theme this month is #TheFutureIsFemale. It’s really about turning the spotlight on women who are doing things their way. When I first learned of The New Family (podcast and blog), I did some reading about you. You are definitely a woman re-defining the traditional way many people view parenting. Following your divorce, you and your now ex-husband and father to your children, lived in homes side-by-side where you currently reside and co-parent your kids. I am sure this raised some eyebrows and was fodder for the schoolyard gossip mill for some time. How did you arrive at this decision and more importantly, how did you get to that place where you could block out the noise and even quiet the voices in your own head – essentially saying “I don’t care what anyone thinks anymore”?
Brandie: We arrived at our unusual arrangement purely by chance, actually. We were struggling to figure out our living arrangements as a separated couple when, in a stroke of luck, the place next door came available for rent. This just instinctually felt right for us, though we know it wouldn’t be right for most others.
Honestly, if people gossiped about us, I remained blissfully unaware. I’ve always had a demanding and engaging career, and when we separated, I was far more concerned with keeping it together at work and taking care of my family than I was about what anyone thought of our arrangement. Perhaps I would have had a bigger sense of the judgement of others if I was spending a lot of time on the school yard and defining myself by how I fit in there. I also consider myself lucky because my friends are progressive, intelligent, empathetic people who have been very supportive of our unique co-parenting approach.
Plenty: What I find most inspiring about you and your work is how you took it further and created The New Family and the 1000 Family Project. Through these you shared hundreds of stories from families, often highlighting women, who are re-defining the traditional notion of motherhood. What does this mean to you?
Brandie: As far as we’ve come, there’s still a default assumption in media and in the way we talk about families that assumes families mostly look like one married mom and dad and a couple of kids with mom in the primary caregiving role–or, if she does work, still carrying the psychic burden of managing family life. The 1,000 Families Project is about highlighting the many forms that families take, and these include those with women in many different roles–CEO of a company, CEO of a household, farmer, single-mom by choice, loving auntie and more. What I hear from people is that the project validates their own family forms, or helps them understand some aspect of lived experience they wouldn’t have considered before.
Plenty: What stories resonate with you? There must be families you remember.
Brandie: It’s a little difficult for me to choose because I have great fondness for so many of these families. Fairly early on in the project I ran a story by a man called Marc Brisson, whose family has always included his best friend from camp who happens to use a wheelchair and has an uncle role in his child’s life. There’s no reason why a friend can’t be a family member. There’s a blended family living in two different provinces, determined to make their marriage work despite custody arrangements anchoring one to Calgary and one to Toronto. Readers were also very touched by the story of two moms whose only request in the adoption process was for a child with Down syndrome. And there have been incredible tales of resilience like the one penned by Robert Buren, a father of two who became paraplegic through a mountain biking accident but who has not let the experience hold him or his family back from pursuing everything that they want out of life.
Plenty: When you think about the idea of family and the future, what comes to mind?
Brandie: What I imagine is a time when no one needs to go to court to petition for the right to live authentically and be recognized as family to one another. When transgender people can easily make changes to their pronouns and birth certificate. When adoptive parents can get the same amount of parental leave as anyone else. When no dads get asked, “Are you giving mom a day off?” when they’re with their kids at the park! What would make me happy is for there to be no novelty whatsoever about whether a child is parented by one parent, two dads, two moms, three moms! Here’s to the three-parent family! That’s a concept I can get behind. We’re not meant to do this alone, friends!
Plenty: What advice do you give your children about life and love? Is it the same advice that you give yourself?
Brandie: That’s a good question, because I may not always be as kind to myself about how things have worked out–or not worked out–for me romantically in the years since my divorce than I would want my children to be with themselves through the twists and turns of life. What I think my children have seen demonstrated for them through our family life is that things can change in our relationships and that we can adapt. In fact, we can carry on stronger and with greater knowledge of ourselves. I’ve also been honest with my kids about having my heart quite badly broken in recent months and what there is to learn about treating others ethically and compassionately. I hope that’ll make it easier for them to share their own first crushing heartbreaks with me, even though I know that it’s more likely I’ll have as much trouble interpreting their teenage feelings as the next parent! Overall, I hope our family, and the stories they learn about through the 1,000 Families Project, make them entirely unfazed by any configuration of family or romantic partnership. I’m quite sure that if my sons partner with women, they’ll have little in the way of presumptions about the roles their female partners should take on in the family or what those women can accomplish in their careers.