Chicago families are more diverse than ever

Once upon a time, America’s stereotypical family lived on Grant Avenue in fictional Mayfield where Ward and June Cleaver raised their boys, Wally and Beaver.

But these days the majority of families can’t see themselves in the Cleavers, say experts with the Chicago-based Council for Contemporary Families.

“Families today are more diverse than they’ve been at any time in the past 120 years,” says Stephanie Coontz, director of research and public education at the council. And they are more likely to demand and receive respect for that diversity, she says.

“What’s really important to remember is that families change,” says Barbara Risman, head of the sociology department at the University of Illinois at Chicago and the council’s executive officer. “The two-parent family this year may be the shared custody family next year. The single mom struggling all alone with two kids may marry and be one of two parents in a blended family.”

Coontz says, “Ultimately, it’s how a family functions that counts, not its form.”

This month, Chicago Parent highlights some of the diverse families that can be found in our neighborhood.

Greek and Tagalog are often heard in the Seto household. When Maria and Fred Seto married in 1998, they united three cultures into one family.

Maria, 39, is Greek and Fred, 37, is part-Japanese, part-Filipino. Sometimes people wonder about the ethnicity of their two sons, Xander, 4, and Calix, 1, but Fred is used to questions like that from his own childhood. For the Setos, interracial marriages are no big deal. It only enhances their love for diversity.

Maria and Fred know that balancing different cultures in a family can be difficult, but a global community has made it easier.

“Maybe 20 or 30 years ago, we may have gotten a lot of looks, but not anymore,” Maria says. Their parents are accepting as well. “My mom had a little bit of a tough time with it,” Maria says. “It’s odd for Greeks to marry outside their culture. The older Greek parents are very traditional. But they got to know us as people, and they love us. There really wasn’t a problem.”

Before they had their sons, the Setos used to travel somewhere new two to three times a month, one of the perks of having worked in tech support for United Airlines. Both born in Chicago, they’ve grown to love Paris and Singapore, as well as the many other places they’ve been. Someday they plan to show their sons the world. “I want them to see how late people eat in Spain,” says Fred, “and the different things they do, like the flamenco dancers in Buenos Aires, and ride the Metro in Paris, and see the Eiffel Tower.” So far, they’ve only hit Disneyland.

As their sons grow up, they hope the boys will not only appreciate their own backgrounds, but all cultures. “I try to teach them to appreciate different cultures in general,” Maria says, “to let them know that everyone has their differences and to accept people’s different views.”

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