The all-American truth about traditional family values

Since President Obama announced his support for same-sex marriage, family values have returned to the national discussion, begging the question of what a Photo: Family - 1940-2012

FLORIDA, May 13, 2012 — In contemporary America, most people have a certain concept of family.

It typically includes a husband, a wife and some children, all of them living under the same roof. The children live with their parents until adulthood, when they either enter the workforce full time or attend college. After a few years, the now young adults are expected to marry, have children, and repeat the entire cycle.

Does this popular perception accurately reflect reality? The answer is quite simple: No. Currently, 27 percent of family households with minors present are headed by single parents. Over two million fathers are the primary caregivers of children, marking a 62 percent surge since 1990. More than 50 percent of minors will live in a single parent household at some point. This should come as no surprise when one considers the fact that one third of infants are born to unwed parents. Single motherhood also soared by an astounding seventy percent, from three to ten million, during the same period.

The divorce rate is half the marriage rate, which has a tremendous impact on children. Each year one million of them witness their parents legally separate. Further down the line, these kids have a better than even chance of being in a stepfamily.

One out of 25 children will reside with neither parent. More children than ever before are enrolled in various state operated foster care programs. Grandparents increasingly find themselves as parents once again; nearly two and a half million are primary caregivers to related minors.

Gay and lesbian households have also seen a dramatic uptick. Two million children are now being raised by non-heterosexual parents. One third of lesbian families include children, and the same goes for one fifth of gay households. From Delaware to Missouri to Montana, the rate of families headed by same-sex parents has soared exponentially during recent decades, and this increase shows no sign of slowing down.

Taking all of this into account, the obvious question is, why do so many still define the American family in such narrow terms? The answer is that they are conjuring images and portrayals of an era whose roots were set during the 1940s, an immensely complicated decade that was of a truly progressive nature which entailed women working in positions formerly held by men.

When these men returned from World War II, they expected a more traditional society and women consequently were encouraged to accept the roles of housewife and mother once again.

With stringent divorce laws, outright bans on interracial marriage, and virtually no legal protections for non-heterosexuals, too many people to count were either left out of the family craze or forced to conform. The rise of suburbia, which began in the 1940s due to increased prosperity and deeply seated urges for consumerism, caused urban populations to deplete and farmland to produce a strange new crop: tract houses. 

This afforded newly minted suburbanites with an unprecedented level of privacy and effectively splintered longstanding ethnic enclaves that had thrived in the city. Organized religion largely took ethnicity’s place as a unifying entity; church attendance soared during the late 1940s and throughout the 1950s. The movie industry capitalized on these evolving social norms and released a barrage of films which idealized them. As the television industry gained steam, a series of sitcoms were formulated that promoted the same ideals. 

In reality, family life never did live up to celluloid portrayals, but untold millions became irrevocably influenced by the mass media, and personal expectations rose to the level of fantasy. As time passed, these expectations waned along with the media’s recognition of modern culture. However, the standards set forth by the postwar era of entertainment have been so completely driven into America’s psyche that they won’t easily fade away.

Looking at the American family from a broad perspective, it is readily apparent that things are changing at what can only be described as the speed of light. This has many causes, from the dawn of globalization to the rise of personal technology, and seems primed to gain momentum during the years ahead. In any case, while objectively productive traditional ideas can be favored, attempting to bring society back to where it was once perceived as being could only be described as a fool’s errand.

Not only has the mindset of the American public changed as of late, but its core demographic makeup. If the rational step of accepting this and moving forward was taken, then ample focus would invariably be placed on building a better tomorrow. As any man or woman surveying the situation with a pair of non-rose tinted binoculars can tell, this beats any alternative by a landslide.

Truly, the time has come to recognize reality for the benefit of not only America’s future, but past and present as well.

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Joseph Cotto

Joseph F. Cotto is a social journalist by trade and student of history by lifestyle choice. He hails from central Florida, writing about political, economic, and social issues of the day. In the past, he was a contributor to Blogcritics Magazine, among other publications. He is currently at work on a book about American society.

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