Let’s Talk About Family with Parents Magazine’s Julia Dennison

If you are following me on social then you know I am thoroughly enjoying my time co-hosting an incredible podcast for Parent’s Magazine with Executive Editor of Parents.com Julia Dennison. Our show, “We Are Family” is an audio celebration of families of all shapes and sizes. Each week we talk with amazing families and discuss what makes their families unique, lessons learned, and how they continue to thrive, especially during this time.

Illustration by Rebecca Hart

I wanted to turn the spotlight on my co-host Julia Dennison to discuss how she developed the idea for our show, what she wants families to know, and how important it is to see diverse families on our timelines. You can check out “We Are Family” over at Parents.com and here are a few of my favorite episodes: 

As you know, Scott and I were made parents with IVF and surrogacy. There are so many ways families are formed today and I asked Julia why it was important to discuss the various types of families and familial settings with the Parents Magazine audience. 

Instagram @ShaunT

Julia: Non-nuclear families are going to outnumber traditional families as soon as 2020. That was really remarkable for me to see because as a single mom, who co-parents with her ex and shares the time with my daughter, my family doesn’t look like the traditional nuclear family. Working in editorial on the parenting beat, I’m often surrounded by nuclear families and when looking on Instagram you will often see these perfect little polished and filtered families: a mom, a dad, all the kids, wearing matching outfits. Sometimes it would get me down and I would feel a little bit like my family was the odd family out. 

Instagram @JuliaDennison

With each passing day, we live our lives more and more online, especially during the global pandemic we have faced in recent months. I get how it can be disheartening to log on and see tons and tons of what society has celebrated as the idea of the “perfect family”. That is why our show and our platforms are so important. Representation matters and whether it’s Julia showing how she and her daughter Esme live in NYC or Scott and I raising our boys in Arizona. It’s important to show people how beautiful, amazing, and happy our families are, just the way they are. There is no perfect family; there are a bunch of different happy, healthy, and thriving ones. 

Instagram @JuliaDennison

Julia: When I saw statistics that said more and more families would look like mine, I thought, alright it’s my duty as an editor of a parenting website to showcase those families and talk about all the different ways people become families. The more I looked around the more I thought “well there is myself but there are also single moms and single dads that parent by choice.” There are gay parents, transgender parents, surrogacy, IVF, adoption, fostering, so many wonderful ways people become families. It’s not always the mom, dad, and the kid, sometimes it’s the grandparents and the kid, the aunts, and uncles raising kids; I started to realize that no two families look alike. What we are seeing on Instagram, this polished idea of the perfect family, is not necessarily what’s out there in America. The one thing that unites these families is love. Love makes a family and families can look like all different things. 

This podcast goes there with diversity in storytelling; I learned a lot as we did interviews with parents of kids or themselves in the LGBTQ community.

Julia: We launched the podcast last month during PRIDE and there is a lot in the LGBTQ community about chosen families. Your family isn’t always the family you are born into sometimes whether that’s through adoption or your friends become your family. Family is such a broad term and it’s beautiful in that way because it can be so all-encompassing. There are not enough people talking about raising trans kids, for example, and this is an opportunity that the more we talk about it, “normalize” it and talk about love being the connective thread between all these different families, the better. We did an excellent episode with Ally Sheedy, from Breakfast Club, and her transgender son Beckett Lansbury, and that was just a wonderful interview with the two of them just talking about Beckett’s experience being a transgender boy, what that was like with his mother and what he wanted from his parents. 

The podcast episode with Ally and Beckett was one of my faves and I loved how Ally owned up to having to be accountable to educate herself of the process in which Beckett was embarking on. She allowed the clinic and Beckett to correct her in the beginning when she wanted everyone to explain things to her.

Julia: That was a beautiful thing that came out of Ally Sheedy and Beckett Lansbury episode, just the very fact that it is,(and I am acutely aware of this as a white editor) my responsibility to educate myself, to listen and to offer my platforms as that, a platform for people who need them. Whether that’s us working with more black writers, raising up black voices, or like with the podcast that is going out to a large audience and is all about celebrating the diversity of families.   

 It’s synonymous with what we see now and the due diligence true allies must have if they want to provide authentic allyship within the push for social justice, equality, and a better society. What is your hope about the impact our show has in this realm of conversation? 

Julia: It feels good and important that our podcast is so much about lifting people’s voices and telling people’s stories, the oppressed, the marginalized. The most important thing our show can do is lift up and tell the stories of those that may not have had their story told before. Also, to present a different picture of a family then what we have been raised to understand a family should look like.

It has been great having another platform to speak authentically about family. Scott and I’s episode was very timely for what is happening in the social landscape. 

Julia: What we are learning now, certainly in these times of revolution, activism, and Black Lives Matter is the importance of talking about these things. When we say Black Lives Matter, we are calling out the fact that “Black Lives Matter” and black people specifically need to have their voices heard and lifted. With the murder of George Floyd, and the police violence happening all across America, it became very clear that we had to make sure we were addressing that. We also needed to talk about, specifically, what it has been like for you Shaun, as a black dad, raising a black child, and a mixed-race child in America right now. 

Instagram @ShaunT

As you mentioned, there are so many types of families, and I am glad Scott and I were able to share from our perspective and discuss very real things that impact ours and the lives of many others around the world today. 

Julia: I think a lot of these topics like parenting trans kids or you being a black dad in America – and what that experience has been like and what Scott’s experience has been like as a white ally – are hard topics to talk about. It’s often easier to tiptoe around them and not speak about it. In the episode with you, and Scott, it was a lot of Scott and I discussing how, as white people, we benefitted from our structure of racism in this country and not being afraid to talk about that. That is apart of allyship, being able to put it out there. It was interesting listening to Scott’s experience with police growing up versus your experience with police. Scott talked about how – and this is something I can relate to as a white person – the police are people you go to for help and that is not an experience that you have had or many other black people have had in this country. I think it’s just the more we are able to not dance around these topics – like I love with Ally Sheedy she didn’t just say “the moment Beckett came out I was fine, it’s all good.” – the better it will be. 

We are definitely in a time of need for honest and open conversation. 

Julia: She talks about the fact that – as a parent – it was like “oh, whoa, what does this mean for my child?” What does it mean that my child will have to go through all of this? How is society going to look at him when he comes out as a boy? Ally was really great about talking about what went through her head. That might have been something in the past that many of us might have felt like it was easier not to talk about and just say “Oh as parents we accept our kids no matter what”, well do we? I think it’s similar with race; CNN and Sesame Street did that anti-racism town hall which I thought was great talking to our kids about racism. In the past, we use to not talk about color and not talk about race and that was what we thought was the right thing to do like “Oh, I don’t see race”, well the police do and we do have to be talking about race and we have to be able to say as white people that we acknowledge our white privilege; we see that we benefit from it. If we don’t have those conversations, then we aren’t going to get anywhere. One really interesting thing after speaking with you and Scott is Sander looks very different from Silas and how is Sander going to be treated in the world versus how is Silas going to be treated. Those might have been topics in the past that we might have wanted to not talk about just out of politeness but we are at a point now where it’s clear, that we have to talk about these things. 

Thank you Julia Dennison for taking the time to chat with me for ShaunTLife.com. If you want to keep up with Julia and check out the amazing work she is doing follow her @JuliaDennison and check out @Parents. Also, listen and rate our show on your favorite platform for podcasts, just search “We Are Family”.

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