I have a love-hate relationship with my social media accounts. Social media is a necessary part of any family photographer‘s marketing strategy and it’s a way to connect with people all around the world. But social media often portrays one type of family. White, neurotypical, able-bodied, cis-gendered, heteronormative families with 2 kids (one boy and one girl, of course).
As a photographer, I sometimes get told “we don’t look like most of those families you post”. This kills me. All families are beautiful and it’s always my mission to make them feel like they are.
In 2021, I completed The 'Every Family is Beautiful' project to help change the narrative about what beauty looks like by offering a set number of free photo sessions to capture each family’s unique story.
We love seeing, meeting, and reading about different kinds of families. The more varied the better. But somehow when we see multiracial or biracial families like ourselves we stop, and sometimes stare, before we are ready to smile and say hello. Seeing ourselves in the families around us is an ongoing project for us. We love how the Every Family is Beautiful project helps us see our own family smiling away in the beautiful array of families around us.
We have been blessed with many wonderful and kind friends and family, who love and support us for who we are, however, there have been times where it feels like people look at me with my most beautiful child, and they don't understand how she is the best part of me, that having a life with her has been the greatest gift of my life. Being a different kind of family has social challenges that I never imagined, that have impacted my daughter as well as me. For my daughter, having the two of us acknowledged as a family in a bigger way has been incredibly meaningful for her, particularly as we stand with other families who are like us in some ways, and who are our new extended family whom we love.
When the amazing @jayemcl reached out to me to ask if my family would like to take part in her 10th anniversary website re-do to promote diversity, I said Yes of course! I have to say how happy we are that we said yes to this project! @jayemcl was amazing with capturing the essence of my family just the way we are, the way we exist. You captured our joy and silliness. We never take ourselves too seriously in our house hold and you were able to capture all of that. ... To diversity and inclusion. The world has many different blends of families and we are proud to be one of them.
My eldest was four years old when she innocently asked, "Why do people stare at us? Should I say hello when they do?" I've always loved how observant and curious children are, but there are some questions that - well, they can break your heart. When you have a child or children with a disability, you spend a lot of time educating those around them so your child can be successful in participating in community activities they want to be part of and love. You want them to feel included and accepted. You want them to have friends. You want them to be seen not as "special" but simply as themselves. And, you hope that the more you put yourself out there - the more they put themselves out there- society will begin to change so that people no longer stare at the walking aide but only see the smiling child waving hello.
"Blended families are definitely tough! Two parents, with 2 different mindsets - challenges of raising the kids, for sure.
What makes us unique? Hmm....besides having 2 moms in one house?! That's a challenge within itself - that's a lot of female brain management! One thing we try to foster is the two types of relationships that are here - the relationship between my wife and I - we always make sure to have time for just us; and our family relationship - making time to spend together, all of us. We try and support each other and our goals - but we definitely have challenges!"
We are now Multigenerational Living with my parents. ‘Nana’ and ‘Papa’ live above our garage, in an in-law apartment. While there’s certainly been a learning curve to sharing an address, (especially with a neurodiverse kid) they are a special part of our lives and we wouldn’t have it any other way! We are honored to have been given the opportunity to document this time in our lives, and these special relationships.
“I’m a single mom by choice. I used a sperm donor to have my son Flynn. I always knew I wanted to be a mom, and when I never found that special person to share my life with, I knew it was time to take matters into my own hands. It was the best decision I ever made. Flynn is my reason for being; he’s a joy to be around and has the kindest heart. Everyone who meets him loves him. I also think we should showcase atypical families so that they become the norm and not the exception.”
The question “How many kids do you have?” is always a difficult one to answer. We are blessed to have a beautiful daughter and son here with us on earth and the most precious guardian angel we could ever ask for in Heaven.
Our twin daughters were born at 23 weeks 5 days gestation, weighing under a pound a half each. They were given just a 5% chance at a normal life, if they survived at all. We lost our angel at five days old. Our surviving daughter fought fiercely to defy all odds and obstacles and came home after 129 days in the hospital.
In our home we strive be as “normal” as any other family: loving parents trying to raise happy kids who are good humans. Each time we are asked the most innocent of questions, we are reminded that our experience of loss, fear, countless tears and prayers, and joy in the smallest of milestones that we are, in fact, different.
“For our family, participating in the “Every Family is Beautiful” project was an opportunity to begin to address the lack of representation and visibility of Asian-Americans in so many aspects of our society including social media. In light of rising Anti-Asian sentiment exacerbated by the pandemic, it was especially important to us to contribute to changing the narrative about what a beautiful family looks like and to represent the experiences of a multigenerational, mixed-race, Asian-American family. After over a year of pandemic isolation which resulted in several missed milestone celebrations for our extended family, we’re honored to have been given this opportunity to document one of the first moments that our whole family could safely be together again.”
When we signed up to be foster parents, we were expecting to get a call for one child who was 0-3 years old. We always joke that they must have heard us wrong and that we said we would take 0-3 children! Our first placement, two days after we received our license, was for a sibling group of 3 boys. We were in a small apartment, but we were assured it was a very temporary placement so we said yes. We would have never imagined that we would go from a married couple to a family of 5 with our very first placement. We are not your typical family for sure and that’s why we love the Every Family is Beautiful Project! Our boys were adopted on April 1, 2021 after being in foster care for almost their entire lives. We are grateful and blessed that we can provide them with stability and a living home. Family isn’t made from blood. It’s made from love!
Being a diverse family means we listen to each other’s experiences, we share each other’s joys, and we raise our children to lead a new generation to love and seek to understand our human experience. It’s not easy work by any means. But it’s so important and that’s what keeps us going each day.
“Growing up I was inundated with images of white, heterosexual, cisgender, able bodied people and families. When I was coming to terms with my sexuality, I wasn’t sure what the future held for me. Would I find love? Could I have a family? I didn’t know the answers to these questions, because LGBTQ+ media representation was almost non-existent, and what did exist was often negative. The Every Family is Beautiful project is important to me because it shows young kids, including my son (and his future sibling), that our family is valid, beautiful, and worthy.”
Our oldest is neurodiverse. He can find the beauty and happiness in the everyday things we often overlook in the rush of life. He can see the patterns water makes when it is poured into a container or that you can take a pile of mismatched beads and line them up into rainbows. Just like those beads, society often overlooks the beauty when they see my son in public. They might see his jumping, his echolalia, or his frustration that he cannot communicate with them in a way they understand. They see a child that "needs discipline," a child that should "stay home," or a child that just needs to learn how to adjust to their world. I wish every single one of them could get to know him as we do. He has the most incredible smile, he has the best sense of humor, he is always up for an adventure, and he will stop what he is doing to snuggle you, no matter what. There is nothing about my son that needs to change, perhaps it is the world around him that does.
Media portrayal impacts not only how others see you, but how you see yourself. With two young children looking to form their own identities, it's often frustrating to see a lack of diversity compounded by exaggerated and stereotypical depictions in media and pop culture. This project has given us the opportunity to see our family in our own light. It resonates with us because diverse media portrayal would go a long way in helping everyone feel like they belong in this world.
Media impacts not only how we perceive others, but how we perceive ourselves. It’s important for our children to see positive representation of families that look like ours, that there’s no one “mold” that a family needs to fit. It’s also important that other families see this representation. Our children will deal with lifelong comments about how different they look from each other, or that our oldest son looks like his Mom and our youngest son looks like his Dad simply because people don’t take the time to look beyond their skin color. They’ll struggle to understand where they “fit in.” Greater positive representation leads to greater understanding and acceptance. Being part of this project is an action we can take as a family to help contribute to a positive narrative for our kids, and other kids like them.
In 2021, we celebrated what makes ALL families beautiful. Special thanks to the incredible families who participated in this project.