Document Type



Master of Arts



Date of Defense


Graduate Advisor

Jill B. Delston, PhD


Jill Delston, Ph.D.

Eric Wiland, Ph.D.

Stephanie Ross, Ph.D.


Abstract: In this work I argue that the heteronormative nuclear family (HNF) should not be considered the ideal family form as it has been in the past. The HNF assumes that the ideal family should include a monogamous heterosexual couple and their offspring. I argue that the HNF should not be used as an ideal by which to judge family health as there are many different family arrangements outside of the heteronuclear. The HNF should not be confused with particular heteronuclear households as the HNF as an ideal does not refer to any specific family. As some ideal by which to judge family health may be useful, I provide an alternative ideal focusing on function over form. In providing this alternative ideal, I supply one which can be achieved by families outside of the heteronuclear. To make my case against the HNF as the ideal family form, I explain that this ideal promotes a kind of sexism. I support this claim by demonstrating how the HNF is predicated on the assumption of a flawed binary in which the sexes are strictly divided and naturally opposed complements to one another in their gender expression. I go on to point out that the HNF’s history and basis in a strictly divided binary make it particularly apt as a tool to privilege white families who fulfill its form. This is because historically white nuclear families have been the favorite example used for what a healthy family should look like. I deny that the HNF can be effectively used to judge family health; however, an ideal family of some sort may be useful in assessing the suitability or functionality of families which actually exist. In consideration of this possibility, I provide an alternative and obtainable ideal emphasizing function over form. I propose that the ideal family would be a network of care in which each member reliably supports and cares for one another. I also lay out the bounds of the family as a network and how responsibilities and obligations might be understood and their fulfillment assessed.

OCLC Number