Changing family, changing America: It's not your (grand)parents' 'Cheaper by the Dozen'

The cast family members of "Cheaper By the Dozen" attend their movie's premier in Hollywood, Calif., on March 16, 2022. Gabrielle Union and Zach Braff play the parents in the blended family.
The cast family members of "Cheaper By the Dozen" attend their movie's premier in Hollywood, Calif., on March 16, 2022. Gabrielle Union and Zach Braff play the parents in the blended family.

The makeup of the U.S. family has changed.

"Parents today are raising their children against a backdrop of increasingly diverse and, for many, constantly evolving family forms," the Pew Research Center says. At least 15% of kids are living with parents in a remarriage, and 7% are living with cohabiting parents.

America's multiracial population grew from 9 million in 2010 to 33.8 million people, according to the 2020 Census. While about 70% of children under 18 live with native-born parents, more than a quarter reside with at least one foreign-born parent.

The Adoption Network says 1 of every 25 U.S. households with children have an adopted child. And about half of these have both biological and adopted children.

Same-sex couple families make up 0.8% of all U.S. households, according to the American Community Survey. Of the estimated million same-sex families, about 52% are female coupled households. Same-sex families are also more likely to be interracial, but they’re less likely to have children living with them.

Hollywood, TV ads and YouTube

Not only is the family change found in data, but its evolution is also found on the big (and little) screen: "Will and Grace" showed us, at the end of its first run in 2006, a same-sex couple happily raising a child. Some of the most popular YouTube channels are those featuring mixed-race couples.

Raise your hand if you've seen the 1950 movie "Cheaper by the Dozen," about a family with as many kids. How about the 2003 version starring Steve Martin? Apparently, Martin found the experience so rewarding that a couple of years later, he played the dad again in "Cheaper by the Dozen 2." Aside from having a common title, all three versions not only had two parents and 12 children, they were also all white.

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On Friday, Disney+ brought America a brand new take – a Black mother played by Gabrielle Union, Zach Braff as a white dad and 10 children.

That's right, a blended family, a trend we've been seeing more of in video commercials, printed ads and billboards. But the buzz and excitement bubbling up surrounding this movie (and that celebrated the interracial union of first-season successes Cameron Hamilton and Lauren Speed-Hamilton from "Love is Blind") hasn't always been the overriding response.

Remember that Cheerios ad?

A Cheerios ad featuring an interracial couple and their mixed-race daughter in 2013 got so much backlash, it was taken off the air.

Hollywood is reflecting that the American family has long been changing and growing more diverse, and also showing a change in America's attitude. Gallup reported in September that:

►Approval of interracial marriage is nearly universal across all regions.

►Solid majorities now support same-sex marriage.

►Larger majorities than in the past view divorce as morally acceptable.

So some of us on USA TODAY's Opinion team decided to share with you our definitions of family. We are a part of the changing American landscape, and you are, too.

Read about our families, then tell us about yours. What does family look like to you? What does it mean? Share photos with your stories. Send submissions to projects editor Eileen Rivers: erivers@usatoday.com.

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Family is more than sharing genes

Explaining my family has always been stressful and confusing, but I'm going to try to write it simply. My mom is Korean. She was born in South Korea and adopted by a white family. My dad is African American. They were never married, and I was raised by my mother and white stepfather. I have two stepbrothers, both white, from my stepfather. I have a stepsister from my dad's current wife, who is biracial, and five biracial half-siblings. So when I'm seen with my family, especially my mom and stepfather, it always leads to confusion.

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My extended family is mostly white and Mexican. I used to think my family was weird, and I would be scared to explain this to people. I was afraid of judgment about my parents' never being married or being biracial. I've had close friends tell me their parents aren't OK with mixed-race couples because they say the Bible forbids it, or that they judged my parents for not being married. I've had family members say racist things – about both Black and Asian people – to my face.

Jaden Amos joined USA TODAY in August 2021 as a digital producer.
Jaden Amos joined USA TODAY in August 2021 as a digital producer.

There are times where I wished my parents were together, or that I had siblings who looked like me and people could say, "Oh your little sister looks just like you!" or that I would have traits that connected me to my family members, but I don't. I'm grateful for the family I have. Family is more than sharing genes.

Another element of family that is really important to me is chosen family. I wasn't just raised by people who are legally deemed family. I was also raised by my mom's friends and my best friend's parents, and my best friends have become family to me as well. I think that's the case for so many Americans, and I'm so grateful for it.

Jaden Amos, digital producer

Greetings from Mexico City

I'm an upper-middle-class white woman; there is nothing special about that. I grew up, like a lot of white people, hearing stories about Native American relatives: the "Indian" uncle whom my great-grandfather would visit in Wyoming that the family tried to hide away. Quanah Parker, the last chief of the Quahada Comanche Indians, whose white mother we were related to on my maternal grandmother's side of the family. But we had no real ties to the tribe.

I remember always being interested in other people and their stories. My father, a rather eccentric self-employed lawyer, frequently traveled internationally. He would take trips to Croatia, Venezuela (specifically kilometer 83 and Margarita Island) and Egypt, and bring back amazing stories and treasures: a scorpion in a jar, a blow dart gun (with poisonous darts), nuggets of gold in a vial of mercury, a shrunken monkey head; I was the star of show-and-tell. Differences in skin tone, religion, culture or language never scared or repelled me; I was never taught that. On the contrary, different was interesting and important; it drew me in.

Carli Pierson's daughters dressed in traditional clothes from Veracruz, Mexico, where their paternal grandparents are from.
Carli Pierson's daughters dressed in traditional clothes from Veracruz, Mexico, where their paternal grandparents are from.

Fast-forward about 15 years, I met and fell in love with my partner, who is Mexican. We still aren't married because we don't feel the need. His sister was actually Miss Mexico in 1989, which terrified me at first! Now, I am the mother of two Mexican American daughters. We speak Spanish and English in my house in Mexico City. My daughters speak exclusively in Spanish with their father and only in English with me.

Carli Pierson and her family during a birthday party.
Carli Pierson and her family during a birthday party.

In Mexico there is a rainbow of skin tones, so my daughters don't necessarily stand out as half-white. In the USA, their appearance doesn't mark them as obviously Latina, either. My kids still don't understand what it means to have the privilege of holding two passports, of speaking two languages with native fluency. One day I am sure they will thank me.

Carli Pierson, Opinion writer

Families bend their plans to be together

Zach and I had been dating two years when he finished grad school a few months before I did. He was at Purdue University in Indiana, and I was at Northwestern University in Illinois, so we saw each other about every other weekend. Then when he began his nationwide search for a job, he asked whether I planned to relocate with him. I signaled some hesitation.

I didn't doubt my love for this man and my desire to be with him, so of course I wanted to tag along and see his career take off. But I had a career, too, and I didn't want his ambitions to supplant mine, at least not entirely. When he accepted a position 1,000 miles away in New England and asked again whether I would join him, I suggested he find an apartment within commuting distance of Boston. I would include the metro area in my own nationwide job search. But I made no promises on where I would end up.

My "nationwide" search quickly narrowed into a determined hunt for a professional lily pad in Zach's vicinity. I was thrilled (and relieved) to land a paid internship at The Christian Science Monitor. My daily commute would be 90 minutes each way, but at least I could be with Zach (who would commute 45 minutes in the opposite direction).

Zach Shollar and Steven Porter snapped a selfie during brunch on their honeymoon in Nashville in 2019. The framed photo hangs in the entryway of their home alongside photos of friends and extended family.
Zach Shollar and Steven Porter snapped a selfie during brunch on their honeymoon in Nashville in 2019. The framed photo hangs in the entryway of their home alongside photos of friends and extended family.

I'll never forget the moment I arrived at his apartment and walked across the threshold into our home. The living room furniture consisted of a metal folding chair – just one – and pillows arranged like a small nest in the middle of the floor. We were starting from scratch. Rather than rent a cheaper apartment closer to his new job, he bent his plans to accommodate mine. That's when I really started to see him as more than a boyfriend.

Three years after our big move, Zach and I got married, professing publicly that the "no promises" phase of our relationship had ended years earlier. We committed to keep compromising and building our life together. That's how I know we're a family.

Steven Porter, assistant Opinion editor

A multigenerational, multicultural household

My dad gave me the idea. He had wondered whether any of his grown children would live with their in-laws after getting married, in a multigenerational family, like people do back in Vietnam. I jokingly asked whether he and Mom would move in with me, my future husband and that man’s parents. He grinned and said in America, the trick is to find the right man.

I found the right man, but it was months after Dad had died in Phoenix the weekend I turned 25. The idea, though, lived.

I found not only the right man but also the right parents-in-law. They just didn’t know when we met that I was auditioning them to see whether we all could live together.

My whole family loved meeting Bob’s parents. And by my whole family I don’t mean just Mom and my siblings. My mother has 10 sisters and four brothers, and the extended clan is spread out all over. At our wedding in Southern California, 100 of the 250 guests were just my side of the family.

Thuan Le Elston, right, with her husband, their four children, and her mother and parents-in-law in September 2021 in Northern Virginia.
Thuan Le Elston, right, with her husband, their four children, and her mother and parents-in-law in September 2021 in Northern Virginia.

Once we started having kids, my mom was the first to retire early to move in with us in Northern Virginia. Bob was going to grad school; I worked nights at USA TODAY. Eventually, my parents-in-law tired of flying cross country every few weeks to visit the grandkids and moved in, too.

To be honest, my mom’s pretty certain my dad wouldn’t have liked me, the eldest, to set the example of marrying a non-Vietnamese. He was traditional and conservative in his own way. Remembering Dad, though, and his wish to live as a multigenerational family, I like to think that once he realized the Elstons would grant his wish, he’d have gradually changed his mind.

Nghia Le's photo sits on the Le-Elston ancestral altar in Northern Virginia.
Nghia Le's photo sits on the Le-Elston ancestral altar in Northern Virginia.

I like to think that if my sentimental, musical father – a South Vietnamese military veteran and a former newspaper editor who was fluent in several languages – were still alive, he’d do crossword puzzles with my mother-in-law, swap history books with my U.S. Army veteran father-in-law, share my husband’s Apple music account and make sure my kids learned Vietnamese.

In fact, I'm certain he’s looking down and smiling right now.

Thuan Le Elston, Opinion operations editor

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Cheaper by the Dozen: This is us. What does family look like to you?