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All in the Family: The Changing Face of American Home Life

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Ah, the family. When thinking about it, one tends to conjure images of perpetually bright eyed, high soaring, and well mannered children and teenagers under the steady but tender guidance of Mom and Pop. Jimmy plays in the Little League, his sister Sarah busies herself with ballet, mother drives both to and from practice until each are old enough to drive themselves, while father works hard from morning till night to bring home the bacon necessary for financing the whole shebang. Yes sir, this is the life; a warm, gooey slice of apple pie at the picnic of that fabled American dream. Everything is so idyllic and pristine; just like a rerun of Leave It to Beaver or, better yet, Father Knows Best.

Too bad it’s just a fantasy. In reality, the scenario presented above is nothing more than a series of floating abstracts which have, for untold millions, morphed into deeply held ideals. There are many reasons for this, but much can be chalked up to the era of mass televised commercialization launched during the 1950s. During this time, certain norms were presented to the public, which was weary after two costly wars and experiencing a baby boom. Sights and sounds of seemingly ordinary, everyday folks making a go of life in a wholesome, sanitized fashion were welcome developments for this populace, whose members handed their standards down to their children and so on.

Today, in urbanizing post-agrarian societies, the garden variety family bears almost no resemblance to the Hollywood scripts popularized over the last half-century. Single mothers and fathers alike are raising their offspring, who have, by and large, broadened their horizons beyond mere baseball and ballet. In many instances, neither parent is involved with bringing up their children. Quite often, grandparents or other close relatives are left with the indisputably tough task. Even the very definition of family is changing rapidly; many now eschew their blood relatives, or are disowned by said relatives, and create a family based upon voluntary association. In short, individualism is triumphing over collectivism, and civilization as a whole is reaping the fruits of this intensive labor.

Should one want a comprehensive view of the family structure and unit, it would be best to look at both in their historical context. Initially, most families were polygamous. Typically, there would be one husband with several wives generating a substantial number of children to continue the paternal line. Obviously, the male served as a strong authoritarian figure, while his female counterparts tended to be submissive. In certain locales, male children eventually gained authority over their mothers far before the age of what is currently held as legal adulthood. Collectivist moral codes, and the ethics derived from them, served as guiding lights for all family members with the happiness of any one individual rendered irrelevant; though perhaps exceptions would be made for the dominant male.

In contemporary America, family matters are unimaginably complicated as they are relative toward the family at hand. Statistics, thankfully, are able to draw a fairly sketchy, but serviceable estimation of the facts on the ground. Roughly half of children reside in single parent households, while one third are born to parents who are not married. The number of unmarried mothers is headed well north of 10,000,000, and a total of 2,000,000 children are now being raised by non heterosexuals. Over 1,600,000 minors live with adopted parents, and the number adopted each year is climbing above 100,000. One in three lesbian households have children, and one in five male gay households are in the same boat. Additionally, one in twenty five children do not even live with their parents.

Maybe father and mother alike do not know best. Here’s hoping that grandma, or grandpa, does.

Whether society at large accepts these tough but truthful facts is an immensely interesting question. As the subject of family impacts all segments of society, if it opts against doing so, one of the grandest acts of mass delusion and hypocrisy would take place. Unfortunately, any given society is not immune to such foolishness. In the United States, much of the electorate chooses to brush over or ignore and deny what are simple realities. This is reflected in the so-called family values movement, which rams Tinseltown’s aforementioned content across the airwaves, through the mail service, and into voting booths during election season. Despite this, there are millions upon millions of others who acknowledge things as they are and continue moving forward. Such a great variance of opinion is what keeps the American political pendulum swinging back and forth year after year, with no end visible on the horizon. The very touchy topic of why some accept or reject contemporary family ultimately depends upon the individual. Many apply their own religious beliefs to the equation, while others are shaped by their life experiences.

The concept of family can only be described as fluid. What was the norm yesterday may not be regarded in the same light today. Because the very definition of family means something different to everyone, who can say what is right or wrong for their neighbor? Indeed, whether one has a family consisting of two childless adults, eight siblings, or same-sex parents, to live and let live truly seems the most civil routine.

Looking beyond media generated stereotypes and partisan rhetoric, the very concept of family is fascinating. Of unparalleled importance to the human race, it is impossible to downplay. As with anything else, though, family has the propensity to be either positive or negative. It is exactly what we make of it, for better or for worse. Some aspire to be parents, while others such as myself do not.

When all is said and done, family is of utmost relevance to all of us. Why? Because, like it or not, we are all part of one.

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About Joseph F. Cotto

  • jamminsue

    Joseph, I really like this article, but don’t know how to comment. There is tons of good information here. I have circulated it around my facebook pals, so far no one has said anything.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/joseph-cotto/ Joseph Cotto

    jamminsue,

    Thank you for your compliment and the publicity. This is not exactly the type of article which elicits a ready response; perhaps it is best for one to simply read it and see how it relates to the world around him or her.