display | more...
FACT:
According to a 1990 American Census Bureau Statistic, at the time of that survey, less than 4% of American families consisted of a married Mother and Father, and their two children.

The idea that the "ideal family" consists of Mom, Dad, Brother & Sister, all living together, comes from the American government's propaganda of the 1950's. See American Nuclear Family.

What do I deduce from this fact?
Well, first, let's look at what the fact actually states:
Less than 4% of American families consist of a married couple with 2 children. This does mean that there may be plenty of married couples out there with 1, 3, 4, or 15 of their own children. So the fact may not be as devastating as it sounds.

However, the idea behind this fact, I believe, is a comparison between reality and the typical "ideal" American family. The disparity between what the stereotypical ideal is, and what the reality is in this country is what is really jarring to me. The whole idea of 'family" in this country has strayed so far from what was portrayed as "All-American" on TV, radio, movies, etc.
The American Family was lovingly portrayed on television in the 1950's as Mom, Dad, Bro & Sis, and maybe a dog or cat. This was the standard for young American housewives to look to when figuring out how to run their families. But in the 50's, there was no such thing as "Reality TV" like we have now, nor was there a desire, it seems, to show life and America the way it really was. A major war had just ended, and I think people were probably happier to go along believing that the ideal American family did exist everywhere and that it was not only possible, but mandatory to follow that formula. No one wanted to look outside the confines of the staus quo, and no one certainly wanted to portray, within this country or without, that America was anything but the ideal, perfect, happy place. Ideal, perfect, and happy did not include families with 2 same-sex parents, nor interracial or interreligious marriages or children, and the concept of a one-parent family was extremely taboo because divorce just wasn't as much of an option in many cases as it is today.

However, I digress...
It can be deduced from the fact above that divorce has permeated our culture, despite what some religions have to say about it (but America isn't as religious a country as it was 50 years ago, either. But I think that's another node...). I think this is a great thing in some ways, and a horrible thing for other reasons.

Why rising divorce rates in the US are good:
More divorces mean that more women (and men) are finding it more socially acceptable to get out of abusive, violent, and otherwise miserable marriages that they wouldn't have had the confidence to rid themselves of 50 years ago, because divorce was such a dirty word back then. Plus, a divorced woman in 1950 carried a stigma with her very much like the Scarlet Letter, and women were only beginning to see the insides of workplaces - which would be necessary to support yourself and any children you may have after divorcing. So, taken from a women's liberation and rights vantage, higher divorce rates are a good thing, I think.

Why rising divorce rates in the US are NOT good:
However, this is not to say I think divorce is a good thing, in general, nor is a rising divorce rate a generally good thing. This country's attitude towards divorce has become dangerously cavalier to the point where I actually hear young 20-somethings say they're going to get married and if it doesn't work out, "well, there's always a divorce". Grown children of divorced parents, in particular, no longer have this sense of "Till death do us part"; many of my friends who fit into this category actually talk in terms of "oh, he'd make a great second husband". So children see their parents divorced, and yes many of these children do grow up to be that much more determined to have a marriage that lasts, yet they don't and can't understand the pain and money involved in a divorce. They don't know until they go through it themselves.
Rising divorce rates have forced American families to re-think what a "family" really is - and this is why I think that fact, which I originally came across in huge letters on a billboard in Western Massachusetts, is so jarring. We no longer think of Mom, Dad, Brother & Sister as the typical, and therefore ideal, family. The fact that those families like that (Mom, Dad, Brother, Sister) are in the extreme minority points to the fact that more and more people are growing up without ever knowing that there ever was an "ideal". We have come to define "family" as that group of people who, for one reason or another, we feel we can, and perhaps have to in some cases, rely upon. We call close friends "Brother" and "Sister", we call people of our own race "Brother" and "Sister", and yet some people don't call the woman who gave birth to them "Mom", or call the man Mom married and who now lives with us "Dad". This is a very important point, I think. Family used to mean those people who are related to you through blood or marriage and who you live with until you are married yourself. No longer is this the case, which I think is fine. Elsewhere on E2 I have read about a woman who was repeatedly raped by her own blood-related brother. I obviuosly don't know a thing about that family's dynamics, but my tendency is to say that the man (or boy) that she calls "Brother" is much less of a brother to her than say, a fellow human being who helps this woman and listens to her talk about her experiences in an effort to work through them.

The old saying goes 'you don't pick your relatives, you're born with them' (or something to that effect); yet, the American family is becoming more and more a chosen family than that which you're born into. Consider a young boy born to a woman addicted to drugs who doesn't know the father of her child. Chances are, that woman isn't much of a family to that boy as he grows older, so he seeks out a new family. I don't mean he finds the Jones' two blocks over who happily adopt him; I mean he finds a gang, or a significant other, or a group of people who also have drug-addict mothers and no fathers - these people become his family. The fact that this is very common, particularly in cities, where there are lots of people around and lots of places to "escape" to, I think has been a major factor in the abundance of gangs. But again, I think that could be a whole other node, if it isn't already.

I think I may have gotten way off track here, but it is all related in my mind. To summarize: in America, divorce is on the rise; the percieved status quo is not the actual one; the definition of family has changed drastically over the last 50-odd years; and the fact that our ideas of family have changed by choice and by force have caused all sorts of other changes in our society, including the roles we play every day in many other people's lives.

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.