Family Life – Then and Now . . .

Family Life Under Seige

Family life today is under siege and family units have changed dramatically over the last 50 years. Families are beset by divorce, crises in roles, absenteeism of parents, breakdowns in authority, preoccupations with other things, inadequate times together, financial pressures, and a host of other problems.

An Analogy:  Imperfectly Formed Yet Functional

Family Coffee MugAs an analogy, let’s first take a look at an everyday item–in this instance, a normal-enough looking coffee mug.  On the surface it appears smooth, easy to manage, and fully functional. It holds coffee or other drinks; it will not tip when laid to rest on a flat surface; and in fact, we can easily drink from it.  But, if we look just a little closer at the lip and barrel of this mug, we can see that it has been imperfectly formed–the mug’s circular shape is irregularly rounded at the lip and in some places the barrel has minor dents and protrusions.  Hence, it  does not conform to our description of a standard or what we would consider a normal coffee mug.  It is unique and yet it is still functional and meets the needs of coffee drinkers.

Today’s Norm for Family Structures

97i/14/huty/6750/23Now, let’s take a look at our perceptions of today’s forms of family structures and functionality.  We can see that The “Leave it to Beaver” family is no longer a norm or standard. More children are being raised by single parents, by same-sex parents, in blended and extended families, and in families with mixed race, religion and ethnicity. 

Fewer than Half of U.S. Kids Today Live in a ‘Traditional’ Family

Fewer than half (46%) of U.S. kids younger than 18 years of age are living in a home with two married heterosexual parents in their first marriage. This is a marked change from 1960, when 73% of children fit this description, and 1980, when 61% did, according to Pew Research Center’s December 2014 analysis of recently released American Community Survey (ACS) and Decennial Census data.

Pew found that one of the largest shifts in family structure was: 34% of today’s children are living with an unmarried parent—up from just 9% in 1960, and 19% in 1980. In most cases, these unmarried parents are single. However, a small share of all children—4%—are living with two cohabiting parents, according to CPS data. Because of concerns about the quality of the new 2013 ACS data on same-sex marriage, Pew did not separate out the very small number of children whose parents are identified as in this type of union, but instead folded them into this “single parent” category.

According to Pew’s 2014 analysis, 15% of today’s children are living with two parents who are in a remarriage. Pew says it was difficult to accurately identify stepchildren in the ACS data, so they didn’t know for sure if these kids were from another union, or were born within the remarriage. However, data from another Census source—the 2013 Current Population Survey (CPS)—indicated that 6% of all children were living with a stepparent.

The remaining 5% of children were not living with either parent. In most of these cases, they were living with a grandparent—a phenomenon that has become much more prevalent since the recent economic recession.

Yet, as the shapes of our families (traditional, extended, complex, step, adopted, or foster), have become more unique, the roles and functions of family members still remain the same.  A truly thriving family provides its members with emotional and spiritual kinship through shared values, beliefs, and traditions; common experiences and activities, and unconditional, non-judgmental support.   Seems simple enough. Where there’s commitment, communication, common values and goals, and a genuine love and support for each other all challenges can be met with and weathered.  That is, until you add in the distancing distractions of today’s world’s technologies and increased global communications and lifestyles.

Please take a few minutes to look at this 2010 mind blowing video.  It shows just how overwhelming the virtual and online world is.  Its presence alone, putting all other economic and social indicators aside, is changing, consuming, and threatening the quality of our families’ lives and times.  Bottom line for me–life was so much calmer and simpler 50 years ago.  And, here’s where I must end this post, else I could negatively ramble on in comparisons of yester years’ benefits vs. today’s world’s destructive dynamics affecting all levels of our lives, regardless of our family’s structure.


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