By Marian Salzman, Monday, April 30, 2012, at 2:53 pm.
[Originally posted on the Huffington Post.]
I remember being blown away by “An American Family,” what was a compelling and unorthodox documentary miniseries when it was made back in 1973, which showed the world that the “typical” American family was anything but. Much time has passed since the Louds captivated our psyches (HBO recently did its own take on the wacky family, starring a rather fetching Diane Lane as the reluctant matriarch), so it’s worth exploring what today’s “average” American family looks like.
The new American family has taken all the old averages—divorce rates, notions of wealth, favorite pastimes, social norms, etc.—and dumped them on their perfectly coiffed heads. As psychologists try to make sense of our new normal and America’s drastically altered demographics emerge ready for dissection, I’ve been keen to observe the impact of the redefined American family. Look no further than the recent political debates that had us discussing everything from Mitt Romney’s Mormonism to Newt Gingrich’s marriage trifecta, not to mention John Edwards’ trial over using campaign money to fund extramarital trysts. (Good thing he’s not running for anything.)
The American family’s structure is no longer a perfect slice of apple pie. We’ve got nests that are no longer empty as jobless millennials move back in with mom and dad and redefine our latest obsession with what it means to be “occupied.” Some families are led by a single parent; some kids are cheered on at soccer games by two moms or two dads; some childless families treat their dogs better than most human children are treated. No matter how you slice it, the new American family has many flavors, and there’s simply no such thing as convention anymore. (And now that mom brings home as much bacon as dad, or more, it no longer matters who’s frying it up in the pan.)
Big strides are being made to acknowledge our new notions of family. Same-sex marriage is being slowly legalized, and a new Pew Research Center report finds interracial marriage at an all-time high (more than 15 percent of new marriages). Not all the changes are so heartening, though. Most of us are at least peripherally aware of our shifting demographics, but here’s a steely glance at today’s American family in all its glory:
And while the media is babysitting our children, are politicians trying to parent our brood? That’s what psychoanalyst Molly Castelloe said recently, pointing to former Brazilian President Lula da Silva, whom President Obama has called the “most popular politician on earth.” In a 2010 campaign speech, Lula said, “The best example I can give of the art of governing is the art of being a mother. Governing is nothing more than acting like a mother taking care of her family, assuring everyone the right to have opportunities. Incidentally the word ‘govern’ is really wrong … it should be ‘to care for.’”
Big business is showing its chops at parenting, too. Facebook’s COO, Sheryl Sandberg, recently trended big-time on Twitter when she infamously proclaimed that she leaves the office every day at, gasp, 5:30 to have dinner with her family. Who knew big tech moguls kept bankers’ hours? Oh, and how can we ignore the endless loop of bump watches in all the tabloids as celebrity parents make childbearing and -rearing more aspirational than ever? (#lookmanoepidural)
St. Angelina and her ever growing brood aside, Americans don’t seem particularly easygoing about those who deviate from the nuclear family. Many voters were appalled by Marianne Gingrich’s accusation that her former husband asked her for an open marriage, but tongues have wagged even more furiously about polygamy’s roots in Mitt Romney’s family tree—even though the former Massachusetts governor has decried polygamy as “awful” and has been married for 43 years to Ann, she of this recent gaffe: “I love the fact that there are women out there who don’t have a choice and they must go to work and they still have to raise the kids.” Thus furthering the claim that the Romneys are clueless when it comes to how the average American is living these days.
And why do we even care what they say, you might ask? Because, for better or worse, richer or poorer, the pursuit of a solid family unit—whatever that looks like, whatever that means to us individually and whether you are more a helicopter than a dragon—family is still a top priority for most of us. In this brave new world of parenting and family life, we sure have come a long way since the Louds. Views on what the word “family” means nowadays will surely be debated throughout this election, and in Mommy (or Daddy) and Me groups from Manhattan to Modesto.
[photo: creativecommons.org/John Haynes Photography]
This entry was posted on Monday, April 30th, 2012 at 2:53 pm. It is filed under Features, Insights, Politics, Social Media, Technology, Trends, Youth and tagged with "An American Family", American family, Ann Romney, Barack Obama, blended families, college, divorce, election, Facebook, family, Foursquare, income gap, interracial marriage, jobless millennials, John Edwards, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Lula da Silva, millennials, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, nuclear family, same-sex marriage, Sheryl Sandberg, social norms, Technology, Twitter, unwed mothers. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
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