Defining Family

 

Defining Family

 


 

 

 
What is a family?
 
Traditional ideals about the nuclear family paint a picture of a breadwinning father and a domestic mother who cares for the quiet, well-behaved children. Extended family might include grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and other kin connected by bonds of blood or marriage. I believe that blood and marriage is not enough nor a necessary requirement when it comes to defining family. For me, I think of family as the people that understand you, support you, which you can call at 3am for an emergency or to be silly with, love you, teach you, respect you, let you make mistakes, etc. I think it is great if a person's "traditional" family members can be this network or system of support for them but sometimes families are structured in non-traditional ways and loving someone because you want to can mean much more than loving them because there is an obligation to. You define your family. Each family is diverse. Yes, there are some common dynamics but each family interacts and functions in unique ways.
 
What does the research say?
 
Thirty years. For some, thirty years is nothing, it is but one drop in a torrential downpour of rain but one drop can make a world of difference. In the past thirty years, many changes have occurred that impact families. Many of these factors will not surprise you but the extent of their influence on families might. The rate of divorce is climbing to 40% and 50%[1], 18% of all American families are female-led single parent families[2], and cohabitation is “dramatically” higher for all demographic groups[3]. Views on marriage are shifting[4]. America, itself transformed from a farming nation into an industrialized society[5]. Women in the workforce[6], the insurgence of contraception[7], the quadrupling of teenage pregnancy[8], and elevated partner violence (causing nearly two million injuries and 1,300 deaths each year)[9] are factors as well. Diversity in terms of sexual orientation[10], ethnicity[11], and socioeconomic status[12], and a variety of other factors have all played their part in changing the structures, dynamics, and functions of today’s family.
 
But, what does today’s family look like? A Portrait Gallery[13] adapted from an American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) 2003 publication reports the following:
 
About half of all families with children under age 18 include two biological parents and their children. Twenty percent of these two-parent families are blended families. A little over a quarter of all families with children under age 18 are single-parent families. Over two and a half million children live in cross-generational families. It is estimated that 120,000 children are adopted each year, while 6.3 children in 1,000 live in foster care. One and half million unmarried couples have at least one child under the age 15. 1.3 million children under age 18 live with grandparents and 2 million children have parents who are gay, lesbian, or bisexual.
 
What does this mean for families?
 
There is not one answer to this question. I would argue that there is no or right or wrong answer but I do know that family scholars, policymakers, and other professionals from many different fields of study are scrambling to find an answer. How would I answer? The changes taking place in families leads me to believe that families are in need of knowledge and support now more than ever before. Families are redefining themselves and I do not think we as a society, culture, or agency can tell families how they should be forming and living. Instead, I believe that families have to determine who and what they are and make decisions that work best for them and their needs. This is no easy feat. I know, because even with my understanding of family dynamics, I am still defining my own family and figuring out what works for us. So, instead of regurgitating “best practices” and pushing ideas on families, I seek to support families and empower them as they continue to grow, change, and redefine themselves. Why do I feel this way? It’s simple. Families mean much more to me than statistics in research. I am not fearful of change, nor frightened by diversity; in fact, I embrace it.
 
What does that mean for you?
 
Jackpot! You are in the right place! You will be able to look here for information on families and access resources that you feel will be beneficial for you or others you know.


[1] Cherlin, A. (2010). Demographic trends in the United States: A review of research in the 2000s. Journal of Marriage and the Family: Decade in Review, 72, 403–419.
[2] Marin, M. T., Emery, R. E., & Peris, T. A. (2004). Chapter 16: Single–parent families: Risk, resilience, and change. (Pp. 282–301). In Coleman, M. & Ganong, L. H. Eds. Handbook of Contemporary Family: Considering the Past, Contemplating the Future. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
[3] Seltzer, J. A. (2004). Chapter 4: Cohabitation and family change. (Pp. 57–78). In Coleman, M. & Ganong, L. H. Eds. Handbook of Contemporary Family: Considering the Past, Contemplating the Future. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
[4] Sabatelli, R. M & Ripoll, K. (2005). Chapter 5: Variations in marriage over time: An ecological/exchange perspective. (Pp. 79–94). In Coleman, M. & Ganong, L. H. Eds. Handbook of Contemporary Family: Considering the Past, Contemplating the Future. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
[5] Amato, P. R. (2004). Tension between institutional and individual views of marriage. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 62, 959–965.
[6] See footnotes  1, 5, and 7
[7] Nock, S.L. (2005). Marriage as a public issue. The Future of Children, 15, 13–32.
[8] See footnote 2
[9] Centers for Disease Control, 2007 as cited in Finchman, F. D. & Beach, S. R. (2010). Marriage in the new millennium: A decade in review. Journal of Marriage and the Family: Decade in Review, 72, 630 –649.
[10] Biblarz, T. J., & Stacey, J. (2010). How Does the Gender of Parents Matter?. Journal of Marriage & Family, 72(1), 3-22.
[11] McAdoo, H. P., Martinez, E. A., & Hughes, H. (2005). Chapter 5: Ecological changes in ethnic families of color. (Pp. 191–212). In Bengston, B. L., Acock, A. C., Allen, K. R., Dilworth–Anderson, P., & Klein, D. M. Eds. Sourcebook of Family Theory & Research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
[12] Rank, M. R. (2004). The disturbing paradox of poverty in American families: What we have learned over the past four decades. (Pp. 469-490). In Coleman, M. & Ganong, L. H. Eds. Handbook of Contemporary Family: Considering the Past, Contemplating the Future. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
[13] http://www.healthychildren.org/English/family-life/family-dynamics/types-of-families/pages/Different-Types-of-Familes-A-Portrait-Gallery.aspx?nfstatus=401&nftoken=00000000-0000-0000-0000-000000000000&nfstatusdescription=ERROR%3a+No+local+token


-Randie @ http://empoweringfamilieswithrandie.blogspot.com/

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