What is a Family?
WHAT IS A FAMILY?
What is a family? Is it a man, a woman and their children? Or is it something more than just blood ties of the traditional concept? Do adopted children qualify? Do stepparents? The current administration is trying to carve in stone their definitions of marriage and family by using their own narrow concept of life to turn back the clock and to limit under what condition people may bond together.
The changes began during WWII, when women were called to serve outside the home. Suddenly they learned they were so much more than daughters, wives and mothers. They could be independent individuals, capable of making their own decisions about their lives. Suddenly they had their own money and careers. They didn’t have to marry to survive. When the war ended, the soldiers returned to a budding new breed of women. One who was more independent and unwilling to accept the traditional, subservient role. This is when the clash of wills and violence began to increase.
Traditional families of the fifties were patriarchies. The man led and controlled the household. The wife and children were subservient to his wishes and demands. He alone made decisions and controlled the household resources. He alone had all the power. In this traditional concept of the family, women’s only roles were that of daughter, mother, housekeeper and sexual toy. The children were considered property of the father. Their futures were determined by his expectations. Sons followed in their father’s footsteps. Daughters were daughters until they became wives and the ownership was transferred from the father to the husband; thus the cycle continued. Husbands worked outside the home. Wives were the housekeepers and nursemaids. These were the times when the family secrets were kept. Abuse was the wife’s fault and responsibility. Child abuses and molestation wasn’t talked about; it just existed. How could it be a crime for the father to use his property any way he saw fit? If the wife was unhappy, give her a pill. If the children protested beat them into submission. Life was good for the male part of the population. Bad behavior was excused, “as boys will be boys”. Abuse, neglect, and abandonment were just accepted. For young women, life was not as rosy. Young women who got pregnant out of wed lock were either forced to quit school and marry or sent away in shame until the child was born after which it was ripped from her arms. Job opportunities were limited and low paying. Women were confined to jobs that were beneath men both in status and pay; those who tried to step out of their roles were harassed and condemned.
The sixties, seventies and eighties brought new freedoms not only educationally but also medically, socially, politically and intellectually. Education was not only promoted, but higher standards were expected. It was increasingly no longer acceptable to drop out. High school graduation became the standard. New opportunities were created for those who chose to work for them. Technology brought new kinds of jobs and more challenges to the old lifestyles. Medical advances in birth control allowed women to more fully control their bodies, giving them more financial and educational opportunities. In 1973, the legalization of abortions gave women the freedom to compete on equal grounds. The political climate started shifting from the “good ole boys’ club” having total control to a more balanced system, which included women and non-whites. No longer were white men in total control of their families or their job opportunities. Suddenly they had to compete for jobs with those they considered beneath them. It was not as easy for sons to be accepted for employment because their fathers. In addition, jobs themselves became more technical and less manual labor. The old reliable manufacturing jobs suddenly became higher skilled and harder to find. Integration brought new understandings and new conflicts between cultures. Traditional values and bigotries suddenly were being questioned. “Because I said so” or “that’s the way it’s always been done” were no longer acceptable answers. Those who chose to take advantage found more similarities than difference between cultures. Interracial relationships and marriages became not only legal but also acceptable.
The tradition family found itself being redefined to include stepparents and stepchildren as divorce became more prevalent. With the educational system and the job market opening to them, women were no longer forced to stay in unhealthy relationships. In addition, the legal and legislative systems recognized a woman’s right to control her sexual life. Husbands no longer had a right to sex on demand. Nor did a woman need to ask permission of her husband to attain birth control. On a professional level, women still were not achieving the same status economically as their male counter parts. However more women were stepping out of their complacent roles and demanding equality it the work place. Sexual harassment laws protected women from the old tactics used to keep them in their “proper place”. In addition, women no longer accepted the glass-ceiling place on them and started businesses of their own. Instead of being assets to the established companies, they became resourceful competitors.
The children of the sixties and seventies questioned more of the old values and beliefs. They found that many of their family teachings about religion, cultures and lifestyles to be incorrect or lacking. The more they learned, the more they vocally challenged the old guard. Refusing to accept the limitations of their parents, they broke away. Demonstrations became common in the sixties as the young adults refused to blindly accept war and segregation. Advancements in educational opportunities gave them income standards far beyond the past generations, making them more mobile and flexible in their lifestyles. Birth family ties were no longer their prime focus and the clan mentally of the previous generations began to die. Individuals could now explore their own desires sexually and spiritually. Alternative lifestyles which started as subcultures, rapidly grew into mainstream realities as the new generations fought for their independence.
The social upheaval of the sixties, which turned into the time of the individual of the seventies, blossomed into a reemergence of social acceptance of the eighties. More people challenged the taboos of the past and more of the old traditions fell by the wayside. Men found they no longer had total control either in their homes or in the job market. Suddenly they had to compete with women and non-whites for jobs and resources that had been their exclusive domain. No longer could they slide by on whom they knew to find work. Skills and education became the qualifying factors in who was hired. Those who refused to update their skills were phased out. Domestic violence became more prevalent as men fought to retain control. However the legal system had also begun to change, giving victims of abuse more rights and options. Spousal and child abusers started to be prosecuted to the full extent of the new laws. No longer could men hide behind the marriage licenses to protect them from the legal system as law enforcement found itself under scrutiny for its past blind eye to the violence in the home. No longer could officers walk away without finding themselves in legal troubles themselves. Child molestation became felonies with long prison terms instead of misdemeanors with short to no jail time. Through these three decades families and society in general became more accepting and equal to all its members.
The nineties and the turn of the century found the definition of family including many whom had been excluded. Marriage no longer defines the concept of family. Loving couples no longer have to make the relationship legal to live together and have children. In addition, medical advances have given more options about parenthood. More accurate birth control, abortion, and the “morning after pill” have given women control over their reproduction. In addition, it has become socially acceptable for couples to remain childfree. Advances in fertility treatments give women more options of motherhood. Women can be implanted with sperm, either from a loved one or from a donor, to create children they couldn‘t have had naturally. Men have also gained the legal option of hiring a surrogate mother to produce a child for them. Adoption laws were changed to include qualified single men and women. Single parent homes, including those created by divorce, have become the norm. Day care has become a growing industry to accommodate the new demand for childcare from working couples and single parent homes. No longer is the wife expected to give up her career opportunities for motherhood. Care of the children has become a joint responsibility of the parents as is providing for the family. Fathers are no longer just a provider and disciplinarian, but an active participant in their child’s life.
Economically more opportunities opened to the individual as cottage industries and small business have begun to grow. Where once the large companies controlled the economic growth of the country, now small, more specialized businesses compete for a larger of the economic pie. More individuals chose to be independent both financially and socially. By doing so, they no longer have to conform to the cookie cutter mentality of the big business. Being able to work off their personal strengths and talents, they have been able to utilize assets that continue to elude the inflexibility of big corporations. The continuing advancements in computers and communications have expanded the individual horizons beyond the clan mentality. No longer are individuals limited to their birth culture, country, or social status. The internet has opened a world of new experiences and ideas. Again the old status quo has been challenged and has fallen by the way side.
In spite of the fears and prejudices the more “traditional” groups promote, today’s society has and will continue to become more accepting of differences within individuals; in doing so, the country has gained more than it has lost. It is this diversity and ability to grow though change, which has kept this country strong. As women’s role in society has become more open and flexible, so has the men’s role as well. Jobs that were considered to be “women’s” are now being filled by men. Just as women have found their place in traditionally men’s jobs. The individual’s talents and desires determine which path to take, giving not only more personal satisfaction but a more positive out look on life. The old saying, “do what you love and the money will follow” has become a reality for those who are willing to do the work and take the chances. Although jobs in manufacturing have been on the decline, jobs in medical and scientific research have been making great strides. No longer can a high school diploma guarantee a good job. The educational bar has again been raised to the college or technical school level. Today a high school diploma is the equivalent of Jethro of Beverly Hillbillies bragging he graduated from the sixth grade. Only by being open new industries, staying strong educationally, using our resources wisely, and playing to the diverse talents of our people can this country remain a leader economically.
As in the financial arena, the definition of family and marriage has changed. No longer is the family limited. With the controversy over same sex marriage, the concept has been expanded to include all those who love each other and wish to make long term commitments. For decades, definition of marriage has been moving away from having children and having someone to grow old with to relationships built on mutual respect and love. The old concept of “death do ye part” only applies if the relationship remains strong and healthy. If the relationship dies, the marriage ends. No longer do people stay with partners who do not satisfy or bring out their best and highest good. Separation and divorce no longer have the old stigma attached. Nor do the old standards apply. Custody of children is shared or given to the person who would be the best parent whether it be the mother or father. Spousal and child support has an equal chance to be paid by the wife as by the husband as economic standards have become more balanced.
Although the ending of a marriage can be stressful on the children involved, it is not as detrimental as staying in a family situation where the parents do not get along and where respect is a foreign concept. It is better to separate and remain supportive to the children, than to stay together and do more harm than good. Children are savvier and more technologically aware than in any previous generation. Growing up with access to computers and other electronic gadgets in their daily lives, they walk into the school system with a broader understanding of what is possible and with a deeper understanding that the whole world is connected. Having access to diverse cultures, lifestyles and religions, give the modern child new perspectives and challenges what they are taught by their parents. The age-old child question of “why” is not only being asked but answers are also being demanded. They aren’t afraid to the ask the hard questions or to challenge authority figures. Respect and honor have to be earned not just given because of age. Parents who bank on the traditional family hierarchy are more likely to find their accounts with their children in a negative balance. Children have officially become people, deserving of respect.
But as much as the advancements have separated family members, it has also brought them back together. The Internet and new communication devices have brought families, who had been separated by physical distance, into direct communication. Where as in the seventies and eighties, the extended family disbursed, they are now coming back together via the new toys. People of all ages are looking for the lost pieces of themselves by research family histories and communicating with older members of their family.
So here we stand a more open inclusive society. The more conservative members of this country would like to go back in time. They are so afraid of losing--but losing what? What do they lose? What does same sex marriage take away from them? How does including all of our population diminish them? If pre World War II, German hadn’t excluded Jews, they would have developed the nuclear bomb first. How different would our lives be if the balance of power and knowledge had shifted away from us?