Changing American Families

The children are leaving for school just as father grabs his briefcase and is off to

work. Meanwhile, mother finishes clearing the breakfast dishes and continues on with

her day filled with PTA, housework, and the preparation of a well-balanced meal

to be enjoyed by all when father gets home promptly at 6:00 p.m. This would have to be a

scene from "Father Knows Best", Leave It to Beaver" or that of a family during or

before the sixties. Only a small minority of contemporary families fit the mold of being

a "nuclear" family today.

Until about the 1960\'s most Americans shared a common set of beliefs about

family life, a family should consist of a husband and a wife living together with their

children. The father being the head of the family, earns the family\'s income, and gives his

name to his wife and children. Today, we exhibit a pattern of disruptions in marriages

and family structure, including single parent families and high rates of divorce.

Certainly divorce has to be stressful for our nation\'s children and adolescents,

leading the American family and the nation\'s future to a state of crisis. It is startling that

whether through their parents\' divorce or never having been married, nearly every other

American child spends part of his or her childhood in a single-parent family. The increase

in the proportion of children living with just one parent has strongly effected large

numbers of children. By the time they reach age sixteen, close to half the children of

married parents will have seen their parents divorce. For nearly half of these, it will be

five years or more before their mothers remarry. Close to half of all white children whose

parents remarry will see the second marriage dissolve during their adolescence.


With all of this, family matters get complicated very fast. Let\'s take the instance

of Jarred and Cassie, brother and sister. Their parents, Larry and Nori get a divorce.

Larry moves in with and marries Crista who already has two boys. Nori meets James,

who is divorced and has a daughter. When Nori and James get married, Jarred and Cassie

now have a mother, a father, a stepmother, a stepfather, two stepbrothers, a stepsister and

four sets of grandparents, both biological and step.

A recent long-term study conducted by Princeton University found that

elementary school children from divorced families, especially boys, on average scored

lower on reading and math tests, were absent more often, were more anxious, hostile,

withdrawn and were less popular with their peers than their classmates from healthy

“nuclear” family environments. In later life, adults who grew up in divorced homes are

more likely than others to tell investigators that they are unhappy, in poor health and

dissatisfied with their lives. Men from divorced families are 35% more likely and women

60% more likely than their “intact-family” counterparts to get divorced or separated.


From my research, an example of insecurities in a child shows when he or she

asks their father every couple of months or so, "Are you and mommy getting a

divorce?", this most definantly shows the extent of worry in the child. (Brokaw) Also

just seeing the distress of friends whose parents are splitting apart makes the child scared

of the humiliating situation.

"The complexity of families has reached astounding proportions," says Frank

Furstenberg, University of Pennsylvania sociologist. A child who lives in such

circumstances finds it very difficult to reckon who are his "kin-folk" and whether or not

the people that he counts as kin can be counted upon in times of need. (Kantrowitz)

Divorces can also mean that men and women with executive or professional

careers putting in 40 plus hours a week, plus travel and home worries don\'t have enough

time for family. And so children are not left with "quality time" which means little time

from parents and with what sociologist Amitai Etzioni of George Washington University

calls "quality phone calls such as "Honey, I won\'t be home. I love you." Though the

intent is not to neglect the child, this can turn out to be neglect in effect. The worry is,

what does this do to the children? It of course means that children can feel unvalued and


It\'s easy to neglect