The typical, American family dynamics that we thought we knew are suddenly becoming much more unfamiliar. With an increase in technology and the need for woman in the workforce, we have split apart from the ideals of a nuclear family and are now delving deeper and deeper into the era of what is becoming known as the post-modern family. No longer are people creating families out of love and compassion but rather for instant gratification, the benefits of having a partner, the expectancy of couples to raise children, and sometimes, by accident.
Two out of three people have a step relative. According to the Pew Research Center, since 1960, the percentage of step-relatives in families with children has increased from thirteen percent to over forty percent in 2014. Having not been formed to the couples content, families often split apart as both sides want to retain the instant gratification that they once had rather than take on the responsibility of a loving relationship and the family that follows.
The ever changing ideals of the typical American family dynamic has given rise to a new wave of ideas pertaining to our society, and how it is moving steadily towards the romanticized culture that is portrayed in Fahrenheit 451. Consequently, the change in ideals has given rise to slitting families along with differing gender roles and unreasonable expectations on couples to center their lives off of the ideas of past ideals. As we move further in society and become more independent on ourselves we move further and further from the past ideas of a nuclear family.
The ideals of a nuclear family, two parents, two and one-half children, with one parent at home with the children, is quickly disappearing. We are now entering the era of the post-modern family, two parents working; single-parent families; adoptive families; remarried families; and so on. The post-modern family is more fluid, more flexible, and much more vulnerable to outside pressures. It portrays the fluidness of current families based off of individuals needs (Scherer). During the mid twentieth century, most people lived under the ideals of nuclear families. We operated under the assumptions that men should be the providers for the family and that women should act as stay at home mothers, protecting and raising the children. Then there were a series of events that skewed these ideas, such as World War II, the atomic bomb, the Holocaust, the Women’s Rights movement, and finally, the Civil Rights movement. All of these events and the consequences that occurred later changed the way we looked at the modern family nationwide (Scherer). World War II, for example, led us to doubt the notions that there would never be another major war, and that every day we should strive to achieve excellence in our nation. This led to a boom in labor opportunities that wound up in the hands of females throughout our country. This not only set a president for woman to work all across the nation, but also changed the woman’s role in a family setting. The evolution of these dynamics has morphed our values into the permeable family settings that we see today. The major value that progressed out of the nuclear family sentiments was that of togetherness. “It’s the notion that the family is the most important relationship in one’s life. Parents don’t divorce because family is more important than personal needs or happiness. In the same way, business comes after, not before the family” (Scherer). Obviously all families did not, and do not, live by these rules, but togetherness was the ideal.
These postmodern families have unforeseen negative consequences, but so does simply starting a family, which is a huge reason that society is shifting away from the nuclear family, which degraded woman and set a very high standard that cannot be achieved by the current family. Many examples are found in the current status of the normative family. An annual survey followed 17,000 people over thirteen years to build a picture of our home and family life, health, education and employment. It shows that when it comes to having a baby it’s all up to the woman and how she feels about her partner and their economic status (The Real Costs). Usually a woman’s financial stability and satisfaction with her partner are what propel her decision to start a family. Because of this, as well as the ideals of staying in college and the competition for jobs has, overall, increased the age of first-time parents. Men, on average range from thirty to thirty-four; women usually range from twenty-five to twenty-nine. On average, if one has been with their partner for more than four years, their chances of starting a family start to drop. Because of this we see a decline in the amount of steady relationships that transform into families. This is a huge factor as to why we are becoming more focused on self sufficiency rather than the good of the whole.
Most modern families also find it very difficult to find affordable and relient caretakers of their children while away earning the families income and almost one-quarter of families cannot find the time to take care of their children. So, instead of spending the money for daycare centers or babysitters, they use the child’s grandparents as a free alternative, on average for fifteen hours a week, a slightly higher rate for single parents who make use of grandparents for an average of twenty-four hours a week. About one-third of grandparents who babysit do so once or more a week, and around seven percent look after the children daily (Hax). Obviously, people feel too pressured to take on the role of parenting themselves so they throw their responsibilities onto people with more experience. This, however, can damage the relationships between the parents and children, creating a larger gap in the nuclear tradition, and modern family normalities.
Another factor in the economical side of the situation deals with childcare. Up to sixty-five percent of households that use childcare for children under thirteen usually pay for some, if not all, of that care. With all of these financial problems, one would think that the boom in our economy, as discussed before, would resolve any issues. However, before a couple had their first baby, more than ninety-one percent of men were working, compared with seventy-five percent of women (The Real Costs). This concludes that a man’s employment status has no impact on the probability of his partner getting pregnant, but his income does. Each additional $1000 in weekly earnings increases the probability of pregnancy by one point four percentage points (The Real Cost). This further proves that our current family status is not based off of love or a deep passion to start a life with someone, but instead based off of the needs of the individuals and whether or not the family is well off economically.
There seems to be a pattern between the economy and the patterns of family life. Some see the poor economy as the basis of declines in stable married, two-parent families; to poverty and economic insecurity; and subsequently, to poor schooling, job, and family outcomes for children (Lerman and Wilcox). From this perspective, the political focus should be on stabilizing the economy, through transfer programs, or indirectly, through increased job opportunities (Lerman and Wilcox). An alternative theory is that declines in the propensity to marry, along with shifts in the normality of acceptability of nonmarital births and fatherlessness, have led to major declines in stable two-parent families (Jayson). This, in turn, has exacerbated problems of poverty, increased inequality, and weakened opportunities for economic mobility (Lerman and Wilcox). According to this perspective, society must use approaches that encourage stable marriages and discourage nonmarital births which can prove effective in our economy and could possibly lead to new pathways to improve our family styles and normalities. Moreover, for some families, marriage can be a drag on their economic well-being, especially in cases where a partner is unemployed or when a marriage ends in divorce. This means that marriage and an intact, connected family life is not always associated with a better economic outcome.
In Fahrenheit 451, Montag and Mildred can be seen replicating an exaggerated example of the postmodern family. They are often separated, no love between them. This can be seen when Montag asks her if she remembers when and how they met. Mildred replies “no” and asked why he had asked. This proves the separation of families and how love is becoming a distant part of a families relationship. Their marriage is based of of their individual happiness and not caring for one another. It can also be seen in the scene where Mildred’s’ friends are talking about their relationships with their husbands. Instead of worrying for their husbands they simply send them off to war without care of what could happen. They raise children with many different men throughout their life and when a husband passes they turn the other cheek. Their selfish actions regarding family and the lack of care between them show the ideals of the postmodern family by exploiting the feelings in the relationships. They don’t spend time with each other and hardly remember what should be important experiences between them. Obviously society has not reached that level of regardless ness of family but we are certainly approaching it at an alarming rate.
Thus, as society grows out of the nuclear family era, our family values change. It is no longer togetherness that binds a family but instead our values have shifted to making money, getting our children out of the house by eighteen, and everyone being satisfied. Many are blind to what happens to the people around them. They have self centered thoughts about what is for dinner or when they can hang out with their friends. They are oblivious to the people surrounding them that have to think of not what, but how dinner will get on the table. They do not think of when they will hang out with friends but instead whether or not they should go home that night, or if their father will come home, or if they want to be around at all. These things happen all around people and they are oblivious, focused on bettering their own lives, eyes glued to screens that emit false depictions of how life should be. Compassion and love for others has gotten lost in these past few years as life has become a desperate race to put one’s own life before others so that they finish out on top. But in that jumble, in the race to adulthood, people lose that sense of compassion and look past helping others, instead focusing primarily on helping themselves.
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