Exploring new families

In 2011, the Italian census defined 16 different types of family, highlighting the multiplicity of family forms, but also the continuity among them (Istat, 2014).

Many kind of families

This cultural “map” reveals the dynamic and plastic character of the family, which is not founded only on “nature” but is also shaped by social dynamics and everyday experiences. In “atypical” families other than the traditional marriage-based heterosexual family, the process of negotiating family identity is particularly salient. And yet, this list of static categories also prompts a number of basic questions about the ways that “being a family” is negotiated in the absence of cultural and institutional anchors. These unanswered questions form the basis of the Family Lives project. Through surveys, interviews, and a variety of other research techniques we are raising the following issues with parents who are members of same-sex couples:

  • What does it mean to be parent? To be a son or a daughter?
  • In what ways are biological ties as well as shared activities and memories part of being a family in contemporary Italy?
  • How are members’sense of belonging to a family made visible and negotiated with the outer world of friends, teachers, medical professionals, and the like?

Our conviction is that, in order to address discrimination and exclusion faced by these parents and their children, it is necessary for practitioners, teachers, and policy makers to view parental practices as emerging from meaningful relationships rather than constituting a biologically-determined “reality.” By listening carefully to the experiences of parents in same-sex couples and describing them in a variety of forms and contexts, the Family Lives project seeks to help social service providers and educators better support their families.