The cast of Friends, in an original publicity still.

Gen X Made “Families of Choice” an Everyday Phenomenon. You’re Welcome.

In 1994, a bunch of friends met in a coffee shop — and forever changed our idea of what makes a family. Sure there was love and dating and the will-they-or-won’t-they tension of Ross and Rachel, but Friends showcased the reality that Gen X was living: family without a marriage at the center of it. Makes sense when you consider that Xers saw their parents’ marriages break up at record levels, and then went on to marry later and later, if ever. And Gen X folks who did marry sometimes decided not to have kids at all. Single moms became more and more visible. And gay and lesbian couples had long been making their own “families of choice,” because sometimes their families of origin wouldn’t have them.

Gen X paved the way to create families on their own terms, which had a ripple effect. According to the Pew Research Center, by the time today’s young adults reach 50, a quarter of them will have never married. The same report says that a majority of Gen Z also feels a solo parent raising a child doesn’t make much difference for society — what may have been eyebrow-raising twenty years ago barely merits a shoulder shrug.

Meet some folks who created family on their terms. 

“We are so happy to be a modern and legal family.”

Hannah Lavon, with baby Cleo (now 5 months old) and wife Jen.

Hannah Lavon (at left in photo) was born in 1983 — right on the Gen X/millennial cusp. And she’s thankful that she came of age during a time when same-sex marriage became legal, so she and her wife could become mothers together. “I want [our daughter] to know that love and family means support and comfort — and it doesn’t have to be tied to gender or traditional family roles,” says Lavon. “There are all kinds of real families, not just a man and woman plus their biological child.” Lavon intentionally surrounds herself with other nontraditional families, which ultimately inspired her business, a sock company (Pals Socks) that creates deliberately mismatched socks that are designed to go together. It’s a bright and sweet metaphor for what she hopes her daughter and her daughter’s generation will see in their own lives.

“We have diversity in all shades, perspectives, and backgrounds.”

Karan Allen, second from left, with, from left, son Anthony (20), and daughters Katanya (27) and Kaela (25).

Kara Allen, 48, has a full house way more dynamic than a sitcom’s — she has three millennial children and two grandchildren, all of whom are in and out of the house. Divorced twice, the Virginia-based stylist loves the diversity of her family, in ages, shades, and perspectives. “Our family is part of the United Nations,” she jokes. “On my Mom’s side there is Italian and Black and on my Father’s side Black, British, Irish, Scandinavian and French. My first husband was Black and has a little American Indian and my second husband was white Italian-American. And my grandchildrens’ family are Creole, Black, White, and Indian.” The one thing they have in common: An incredibly tight bond and a knowledge that you can count on family. While relationships may shift, housing situations may vary, and jobs come and go, having a solid foundation — in the form of a loving mom and siblings who have your back — can help ground you and give you the space to fly.

“I want my family to know that loving yourself is everything. When you love yourself and strive to be the best you can give to clothes from a full cup,” says Allen. “Love is the universal language.” 

“I had a lot of dad energy that I wanted to share.”

Chip Conley with Eli (6), moms Laura and Susan, and Ethan (9).

A decade ago, Chip Conley, then in his mid-40s, was at a crossroads. He had just sold the company he had spent nearly 25 years building, and he was taking stock of what he wanted for the future. Meanwhile, he knew his friends Laura and Susan were planning to start a family —  and that they were considering options for sperm donation. After several heart to hearts among the trio, Conley and the two women made the decision that he would become the birth father for the couple.

Today, Laura and Susan have two sons, nine and six. “I’m known as Chip, the Dad, but I don’t have a day-to-day co-parenting role,” he says. “The key to making this work is to not let emotions between the three of us fester and have an open, collaborative relationship that is built on trust and transparency.” He acknowledges that his unique role gives him both the flexibility he needs — he travels a lot for work and is based in Mexico — as well as the opportunity to engage with all the “daddy energy” he was carrying. He loves being a presence to the two boys, and loves that he, Susan, and Laura have a relationship that thrives on communication.”

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