U.S. family structures are more diverse than ever. Improving reach with them requires media representation to reflect their values and needs.

Before we can granulate family representation, we first need to understand how we differentiate families. Traditionally-represented families have parents in a heterosexual partnership raising child(ren) together in the same household; non-traditionally-represented families have a single parent raising child(ren), in an extended family household, in a chosen family household, or a LGBTQ+ parent. This past October, Verywell Family conducted an American-based online survey of both parent sets to showcase their perceptions of familial media representation. 

What is a Family Today?

A holiday card today might not look like one of the past, as the ideal of the contemporary family continues to evolve. While these makeups differ, there is a consensus on how the definition of family has shifted.

Parents agree that their personal and societal definitions of family have changed since they were children (85% and 89%, respectively). It’s a welcomed change for non-traditionally-represented parents, as 54% regard this positively, and 58% believe their definition is consistent with society’s. Despite composition, parents across family structures align on core family tenets: support, trust, love.

Parents have a shared perspective on family, but the parents looking through the lens don’t share the same eyes. This diversity necessitates more inclusive media representation to reach non-traditionally-represented parents.

Impact of Media Representation for Families

Raising children is an emotional, unpredictable journey that requires nimble maneuvering. Parents are superheroes who are accustomed to this unpredictability — but every hero needs a sidekick.

Parents look for advice in different places. While traditionally-represented parents mostly rely on their personal networks such as parents, other family members, and in-laws, they also seek out information online, with 37% searching at least once a week. Comparatively, non-traditionally-represented parents seek online direction more than any other source, with 59% searching at least once a week. Without as much reliance on their personal networks, non-traditionally-represented parents’ sense of urgency is commensurate with their higher web traffic; nearly two out of five need to receive an answer right at that moment, compared to 1 out of five traditionally-represented parents. The online parenting space continues to be invaluable, but ensuring inclusivity would increase its value.

Non-traditionally-represented parents’ searches present an emotional dichotomy: on a positive note, the data showed they approach online parenting information with nearly twice the excitement and happiness as traditionally-represented ones. However, this deeper emotional online connection comes with a downside, as non-traditionally-represented parents are more likely to experience guilt, depression, fear, disgust, and anger. This emotional disconnect is caused by a variety of factors, such as not visually seeing themselves within content. To address it, parenting publications should pause, listen, and better tailor strategies towards underrepresented audiences. Knowledge speaks, but wisdom listens.

Representation is key. About 61% of non-traditionally-represented parents believe the media should represent families like theirs. When asked about representation on their favorite parenting websites, 37% would accept a minimum of most, if not all, representative content; but 44% would ideally see most, if not all. These figures reflect desired standards, but the reality is discouraging. Thirty-four percent of non-traditionally-represented parents, compared to 18% of traditionally-represented parents, are dissatisfied with online parenting information, resulting primarily from lacking familial representation and untrustworthy sources. This representation deficit makes non-traditionally-represented parents feel judged, delays parenting decisions, and erodes self-confidence.

Most parents want to fulfill the superhero archetype for their kids. To wear the cape securely, non-traditionally-represented parents require advice that aligns with their family dynamics from representative online content; 82% of non-traditionally-represented parents want more parenting information relevant to their families. The lack of inclusion affects their confidence, too, as 54% fear their children view them as bad parents. Aside from the morality of increasing representation, it’s in the media’s best interests, too. 

When they feel visually represented, the results speak volumes. Non-traditionally-represented parents are almost 1.4x more likely to revisit a website where they feel represented and are nearly 1.6x more likely to frequent trusted parenting websites. They are also more likely to purchase a product online and are more inclined to interact with a company’s website and social media.

Online representation is a mutual win: it comforts readers and bolsters brand equity.

What Can Marketers Do?

Understanding how representation can foster consumer loyalty and build meaningful connections is crucial.

Verywell creates an inclusive atmosphere that can make all families feel safe and seen. Non-traditionally-represented parents are 1.5x more aware of Verywell Family than traditionally-represented ones. Of the familiarized, 30% have visited the site within the past week. This high visibility translates to over 80% of non-traditionally-represented parents are satisfied with our inclusivity content, and 87% are likely to recommend us.

Today’s American family isn’t one-size-fits-all; neither should media strategies. Let’s help those who need it the most by creating a more representative online parenting experience.

Stay in Touch

To learn more about how Verywell is addressing family representation, email us at [email protected]