are few things less controversial than the oat bran rings produced
under the cereal brand, Cheerios. That all changed this summer when
the "first food of children everywhere," released the
seemingly innocuous commercial, "Just Checking."
spot centers on an adorable 5-year-old girl questioning the cereal’s
heart-healthy benefits. After her mother patiently reaffirms the
claims, the little girl grins slyly, grabs the iconic yellow box off
the table and flits away. The ad cuts to a shot of the girl’s father
awaking from a nap on the sofa, bemused by the layer of cereal
surrounding his "heart." The ad ends with a single word
across the screen: Love.
It’s cute and
sentimental, but not at all otherwise remarkable.
Except for one
small thing. The ad features an interracial family — the mother
is white, the father is black, and the little girl with the Shirley
Temple curls, is bi-racial.
Within days of
uploading the commercial to YouTube, the page was inundated with
racial comments and slurs and the company was forced to disable the
commenting section. In a move that is rare for corporations, but
supported by many of the nation’s interracial families, the company
chose to stand by their casting decision — even as so many
others called for the removal of the "offensive," ad.
have responded positively to our new Cheerios ad," says Camile
Gibson, the company’s vice president of marketing, in a public
statement. "At Cheerios, we know there are many kinds of families
and we celebrate them all."
families are on the rise. Gay, straight, single, multiracial or
blended, these households are less defined by how they look, but
rather how they don’t.
Gibson presents the oxymoronic state in which many modern families
live: On one hand, there is still enough fuel to ignite controversy;
on the other hand, it appears their nontraditional families are being
and interracial couples are routinely featured in the media.
Nontraditional roles, such as single or stay-at-home dads, are routine
themes on reality shows. The award-winning television dramedy,
"Modern Family," which features various races and homosexual
characters, has reached its fifth season. TIME magazine devoted an
entire cover story to "childfree," couples, and straight
music artists, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, gained a legion of fans with
their equal rights anthem, "Same Love," a song that shot to
the top of the charts and has garnered more than 72 million hits on
To many, it’s
a sign of the times.
Boulevard has long been more progressive than Main Street, if only in
fits and spurts. The white, heterosexual nuclear family prevails. Here
on the ground, Milwaukee’s nontraditional families say they are
still fighting against the monoculture to be accepted as viable and
people married for money — an arrangement that was scarcely
tied to the heartstrings, says sociologist Angelique Harris, a
professor at Marquette University. The idea of marrying for romance
didn’t occur to the Western populace until the Victorian Age. Harris
says modern courtships place emphasis on "people’s own
happiness and life satisfaction, in the unit they create." Media,
economics and a globally connected world have heightened the pace of
the Kauflin family of Wauwatosa, it’s dad Jason who stays at
home with the kids.
the cultural norm," Harris says. "Now, it’s all about
love. And that concept is weird and freakish (to some). But, there
never really has been a ‘traditional’ unit, it’s all in people’s
"One day it
will be laughable that we ever debated same sex couples," she
dad, Jason Kauflin, 41, of Wauwatosa, battling the status quo is a
constant struggle. Kauflin is the face behind Milwaukee Dads, a
support and activities group for stay-at-home fathers. He says despite
raising his two children, now 8 and 10, and doing "everything a
stay-at-home mom does" — errands, cooking and laundry — he
doesn’t get the same credit as if the shoe were on the other foot.
perception is your wife is a doctor or lawyer and you planned (to stay
home) because you’re mooching off your wife, or you’re really
lazy," he says. "People think we’re ‘trophy husbands;’
that there is something wrong (with us). That kind of thinking is very
It wasn’t easy
at first. Society has embedded traditional gender roles deep into the
collective psyche. Kauflin says it took him a few days to amalgamate
his "cool," machismo identity with the one pushing the
stroller through the mall. It didn’t help that a few friends and
family members chalked up his new role to a "phase."
just how people looked at you," he explains. "But it was one
of the things to let go of. We wanted to give the children a more
stable environment. I mean, my relationship with my kids — I think
it’s deeper than most parents have. I take a lot of pride in
Roberta Coles, a
professor of sociology and the department chair at Marquette
University, says unconventional families are nothing new.
generation has complained about some aspect of the American family
when it seems to be changing, but it is always changing and
adapting," says Coles, adding that in the 1880s people complained
about the rate of divorce. "We’ve always had more diversity in
family structure than most people were aware of. Change is threatening
interracial marriage was legalized in the 1970s, interracial couples
still face contention. In 2009 a Louisiana justice of peace refused to
marry one couple "out of concern for their future children."
But situations like these are rare. Megan Hayes, a 28-year-old teacher
at Rufus King High School, says marrying her husband — who is
black; she’s white — has so far been a nonissue for the
couple, even in segregationist Milwaukee. The couple have never had a
negative experience due to their differences in race, and have several
other friends and family members who are in interracial relationships,
as well. The couple married this May and have an 18-month-old biracial
acknowledges the country’s racial tensions, she perceives the recent
backlash as fueled by cowardly Internet trolls (they would never say
the things they do online to her face, she says) and old-school
"I do feel
nervous with the older generations," Hayes says. "They grew
up in a different time, so they could be an issue." Today’s
youth present a different story, however. Hayes points to the high
school, where she sees a semblance of racial concord among her
students — partially because so many of them were children born
out of interracial relationships.
so many kids that you don’t know what (race) they are," she
seems to be progress for interracial families, Milwaukee’s gay
families still struggle with loving and living openly. Denise Cawley
of Milwaukee and her partner, Anne Hester, find themselves constantly
"explaining" their family to others. Across the United
States, 13 states have legalized gay marriage; Wisconsin is not one of
them. Though much of society has moved to accept gay individuals, gay
couples with children face harsh scrutiny, both legally and socially.
That makes Cawley and Hester especially protective of the 6-year-old
son they raise together.
"I think we’re
still so rare," Cawley says. "I wouldn’t say people aren’t
supportive but I wouldn’t say that they are, either. I think we’re
Cawley says she
frequently fields questions about how her son was conceived, an
inquiry most heterosexual couples would find inappropriate, or
downright rude. In the end, Cawley says she just wants to be viewed as
a normal family.
gets it," says Cawley. "He knows he has a ‘Mama A’ and a
‘Mama D.’ The children don’t need an explanation, it’s
ignorant adults who do."
that the values of previous generations will, quite literally, die
away as families continue to change. "We need to let go of that
one male, one female, running a family," Cawley says. "There
are so many different constructs of what a family is."
four family friendly activities to expand your horizons and feed
About: Discover the world of science through self-led interactive
activities and crafts presented by the Urban Ecology Center. Fall
series is "Animals and Their Homes."
p.m. Sundays at Riverside Park, 1500 E. Park Place. Geared to all
ages. No charge to participate, and you can just drop in.
About: For those new to climbing take this one-hour class to learn
proper safety measures as well as basic belaying and climbing
techniques at the Turner Hall facility. Children must be older
than 8 to participate; those younger than 14 must be accompanied
by an adult.
Schedule your class two weeks in advance; cost is $25. Turner
Hall, 1034 N. 4th St. www.milwaukeeturners.org
About: Family programming by Festival City Symphony. Symphony
Sundays include descriptions of the music that will be played.
Attendees of the Pajama Jamborees are encouraged to come in their
PJs and bring teddy bears and blankets. The one-hour concerts
feature lively music selections and a narration.
Symphony Sundays start Oct. 6 at the Pabst Theater. Admission is
$14 for adults and $8 for children. Family packs are available for
$75 for the four concerts. Symphony Sundays are best for children
grade 2 and up. Pajama Jamborees are free and best for children in
K4 through grade 5. The first of three concerts will be Oct. 31 at
the Bradley Pavilion of the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts,
123 E. State St.
Generation Family Sundays
Generation at the Milwaukee Art Museum features hands-on creative
art experience for children. The next Family Sunday will be Dia de
los Muertos (Day of the Dead) on Oct. 20 where children can
celebrate the memory of loved ones. Learn about the traditions and
symbols of Day in the Dead while taking part in art activities and
enjoying traditional music and dance.
Family Sundays are for children 12 and younger. Events are free
with museum admission. Milwaukee Art Museum, 700 N. Art Museum