All in the (nonnuclear, totally unorthodox) family

All in the (nonnuclear, totally unorthodox) family


Fast-moving technological and legal shifts are altering concepts of parenting and relationships. It turns out you can pick your own family.

It is Sunday morning in Greenwich Village, and, as they do almost every Sunday, Viva and Felix wake up in their bunk beds in Mommy’s one-bedroom apartment on the sixth floor of their solid red brick building. The 3-year-old twins play together for a while, have some breakfast and a bath, and then, as it nears noon, it’s time to walk to the two-bedroom apartment right next door.

“Papi!” Viva yells happily when her father meets her in the hallway. She jumps on his back for a ride into the room she and her brother share here in this adjoining but separate half of their home.

“Daddy!” Felix shouts, giving his other father a morning hug, then sprinting to join his sister as they revisit the toys they haven’t seen since the day before.

“How’s his ear?” the man they call Daddy asks the woman they call Mommy.

“Better. The medicine seems to have worked,” she says. “I left it in your kitchen. He gets another dose tonight.”

The mommy in this family scene is Kirsten Johnson, the daddy is Ira Sachs and Papi is Boris Torres. Together they are raising Viva and Felix Torres, and they are all navigating the very modern and deeply ancient questions of what it means to be a family.

“You can choose your friends but you can’t choose your relatives,” the saying goes. And yet throughout the United States, clusters of people who consider themselves families are determined to prove otherwise. “You can’t choose” is one of those things that used to be true — like the fact that a child can only have two biological or legal parents, that a woman can’t give birth after menopause, that a marriage is between a man and a woman — but are now being challenged by law, custom and technology.

“We allow people to change so many of their core identities, so many things that once were absolutes,” says Andrew Solomon, author of the bestseller “Far From the Tree” and himself a member of a family that includes five parents of four children living in three states.

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