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Families have always been a construct shaped by larger societal forces. Before the industrial revolution when America lived in an agricultural age, families were formed as a tool for building kinship ties, rising to power, and even survival. However, the now urban-based society we live in has allowed other priorities and interests to flourish on an individual level. Personal fulfillment and individual development drive the decisions and attitudes of men, women, and even children. It has allowed for marriage to be based on love, people to become very career-oriented, women to begin securing their position in mainstream society, provoked a gender revolution and perhaps, it threatens the “sanctity” of families, whatever that means.
The most visible indication of this shift in culture is the “radical” idea of marrying of love, not commitment. The whopping 50% divorce rate that has remained fairly stagnant in America since the ‘80s is a huge indication that the loyalty to one’s family is becoming secondary to the loyalty to oneself. Our urban-based society has weakened the obligations to our homes, power, or survival and shifted that obligation to one’s happiness, careers, and satisfaction, which are directly coupled with love, a very emotional fulfillment.
If love does not exist, relationships cannot triumph. The only tie is love: reliant on a mutual willingness and desire to stay together. If those needs are not being met, it becomes a lot easier to casually leave a relationship since they are not tied to those previous obligations.
In my opinion, this shift is both a good and a bad thing. It is no surprise that marriage is one of the biggest challenges people will face in their lifetime. However, it is not always perceived that way. Because of this strong loyalty to one’s happiness and fulfillment, marriage and relationships are becoming very casual interactions instead of an interest of forming long-lasting relationships. It has become a quest for instant gratification that has not threatened but redefined that sanctity of families. Although the 50% divorce rate could positively be a result of breaking away from an obligation to stay in a relationship one doesn’t want to stay in, it could also be an indication that individuals are not putting the same effort to maintain a relationship because of a now search for instant gratification. When the honeymoon stage is over, people claim to fall out of love with each other. However, love is also largely based on respect and acceptance – factors that do not receive the opportunity to exercise themselves with abrupt breakups. Perhaps people are indeed getting divorced too quickly without giving themselves the opportunity to endure challenges to instead move on to the next relationship of ignorant bliss and infatuation.
Another arguable consequence is the decline of stable relationships, a factor that directly affects children born of those relationships. Not only are children increasingly coming from unmarried relationships, but are also more subject to having divorced parents. Although family stability is important to children, studies show they also value the happiness and satisfaction of each of their parents, despite it causing a threat to that stability. In fact, tensions in the family rise when members fall back on traditional gender roles. It is a dynamic that is progressively more condemned because it is not only a weakening structure, but the awoken needs of people in this era do not always complement that configuration. We no longer need men to be the sole providers for their wives and children, and women are no longer expected or tasked to stay at home. A dual-income family is something that is often necessary but increasingly desired. The children born in this gender revolution and this new age of personal development understand that. What they sometimes fail to understand is tradition.
It might also be important to emphasize that survival is no longer dependent on a collaborative force; instead, men or women alone can maintain a substantial lifestyle that can even support the other and their own children. Families can still thrive with single parenthood. Mothers and father have access to both the means and the readiness to live on their own and are not searching for dependence in a partner.
Overall, individual happiness fuels the happiness for the family unit as a whole. It is no longer reliant on the mere solidity of its structure but more considerate of the individual fulfillment of each of its members and the ties to each other.
Moreover, children expect the same opportunity for personal development. After all, ceasing to remain a couple does not translate to abandoning their duties as parents. Although children may appreciate their parents’ divorce to secure healthier and happier family ties, they still expect their parenting responsibilities to be carried out. That expectation allows children to accept a break in their families; they are more preoccupied with their needs being met.
The millennial generation lives in a culture where they learn to value receiving an education and becoming active members of society. Receiving a higher education is no longer a privilege for some but, at the very least, an interest to all. Still, a dependency of the family structure no longer exists. Instead each unit plays a crucial role. The formation and stability of that structure is no longer dependent on overarching obligations, rather, it depends on the lower-level fulfillment of each individual.
The same expectation is present in women. Their role has progressed far past a homemaker status to instead pursue a career and develop as an entity. Their dedication to the home and children is a responsibility being expanded to the father while they are sometimes the breadwinner of the family. And although that dynamic is sometimes frowned upon, gender roles are being redefined so it is a dynamic that is being increasingly accepted. Women are slowly but surely marking their presence in mainstream society and the workforce. They are no longer confined to their roles in raising their children but are exercising their independence by addressing their ambitions and goals. The jobs of “homemaker” and “breadwinner” are becoming more and more interchangeable between both men and women, a dynamic that has not been present until now.
The institution of families will always be a construct of the changing nature of society. After all, America is a baby, and as such, it continues to develop as a creature. In the current stage of its development, families are molded according to the harmonious compatibility of its members. In a way that has never occurred before, the formation and stability of families largely depend on the fulfillment of individual desires and ambitions coupled with a willingness to be together.
Nonetheless, society and culture will continue to evolve in a way that threatens previous institutions. Therefore the inclination to define those institutions has become an unnecessary waste of time. Any definition is narrowly defined because it is strictly relative to that stage in America’s progressive growth. Consequently when new forces impose new values, they become a “threat” to those definitions that were only granted legitimacy by society itself. It becomes important to adopt a more accepting and objective perspective to the constant change that will continue to redefine our culture, including the institution of the family.
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