A Polarization of Family Values

Transposing emblem by Talia Stotts

If you were to travel back in time to the mid-20th century, you would notice a lot of key differences from the way life is lived today. You might note the lack of cellphones and computers; you might be surprised by the number of newspapers being read and friendly conversations in the streets. You might notice a distinctly segregated way of life with regards to race. Or it might even just be the clothes people wear that give you the most pause.

Whatever you might notice, the 1950s were very different from where we are currently in 2019. Even so, those years of long ago are still heralded as the “good old days” for whatever nostalgic reason people may find. However, it is the expectation of the family dynamic of those times that causes some of the greatest polarization among citizens in America today.

The middle of the 20th century established family expectations for a generation. The nation had just participated in two world wars and people were getting back on their feet. Women no longer had to work while their husbands were across the globe fighting in battles, and it seemed like a time to really get settled with the ultimate goal: a stable family life.

Those raised in that generation saw the nuclear family as the norm: a stay-at-home mother, a working father, and several children at home. Men worked hard during the day and returned to their loving family in the evening, to be greeted by a loving wife with a kiss on the cheek and the smell of a hot dinner waiting for them on the stove. Children were called in from playing outside to join for a family dinner, and then they were sent off to bed with a kiss on the forehead from mother and father.

This idyllic scene is not foreign to many people in America, especially the older generation. However, it is this way of life that has become impossible for many younger Americans to uphold. With a rise in the cost of living and an inadequate rise in wages, it has become incredibly impractical for many families to survive on only one income. This leads to many mothers being taken away from the home to join the workforce to simply make ends’ meet. Those families that are trying to partake in the traditional family life of years gone by have found that it is an unfeasible goal, simply because of finances.

This, however, only considers those families that have followed the traditional family path. But it is important to recognize that there is a growing number of people who do not wish to partake in that way of life to begin with. Consider for a moment the fact that the current younger generations are not getting married or seeking family life at all. This can again be connected to the lack of financial stability that is available. Many Millennials, for example, cite the fact that they cannot in good conscience start a family when they are struggling to feed themselves from day to day.

Aside from financial concerns, many young people are shunning traditional family values due to ethical reasons. The planet’s population is growing immensely, far faster than the earth can provide resources. With the impending doom that comes along with climate change, it seems unreasonable to bring in more human beings to use up the earth’s limited resources when we are finding it difficult to make sure everyone is taken care of as it is. In the United States especially, many young people are refusing to get married and start families as long as the environment is in danger from overuse and outright abuse.

On the other hand, there are still many people who are focused and able to get married and have a family that more closely resembles that of “the good old days.” However, these families do have some substantial differences that, while they appear ideal to many nowadays, would make the nuclear family of the 50s and 60s cringe.

With the LGBTQ movement gaining traction in recent years, and legality in America, many gay and lesbian couples are able to realize their dream of becoming parents and having a home life similar to that of their parents and grandparents. With the popularity of adoption, sperm and egg donors, and surrogacy, couples who are not able to biologically create children together may still participate in the conventional family life made popular sixty years ago. While they may technically be living the nuclear family dream, because the parents are of the same gender, they face a lot of pushback from older generations that see them as faux families.

Adoption itself has been a great help for those wishing to have a family but for some reason are unable, and it isn’t uncommon to see a family that consists of people of all races and backgrounds. Additionally, foster families are also making do with what is available to them to participate in more traditional family values, if they are unable to otherwise for whatever reason.

Finally, another way that polarization is presented between the old-fashioned family and the new one, is the growing popularity of chosen single motherhood. Out of necessity or choice, many women are focusing on their careers and their own financial independence. While this is helpful for the women as individuals, it is not conducive to forming a relationship, getting married, and having children. Instead, many women take it upon themselves to decide when to become a mother, whether or not they have a partner in their life. With a sperm donor, the woman may choose IVF or a surrogate to bear the child. While this is seen as empowering to many women, a large number of people in the older generations look on it as a bastardization of the typical family life they were raised with.

Despite the fact that there are thousands of people who are attempting to replicate the old-fashioned family, it is clear that there will always be some amount of polarization between them and those who have actually lived it. Americans who have experienced the nuclear family when it was the norm may fail to recognize that the country has changed – society, the economy, education, and personal values have all affected the choices people are making in regard to creating their own personal family. And even though many people may continue to insist that their way is right, it has become clear in the last couple of decades that there is no wrong or right way to have a family, and it is ultimately up to those participating in a given family to decide what it should look like.

Talia Stotts