Our family is what some might call ‘blended’ — e.g. I have a stepson who lives in France and spends summers with us. I also have an adopted sister who is just one year older than my eldest son.
Coming from an African background where the concept of a family unit is much broader, it’s also fascinating to see how these relationships and ideals keep shifting here in the West.
Today’s guest post explores the nature of ‘family’ and how to cope with changes in your home life.
Diversity in Family Units (Guest Post)
Have you ever wondered where we got the idea of a mother, father and children as a ‘normal’ family unit? While sociologists may squabble over what gave the concept of an immediate family unit its rise, there is no dispute that it was solidified by mid-20th century popular culture. Along with the arrival of tv sets and the industrially-fuelled economic prosperity of the 1950s and 1960s came idealised images of the nuclear family – families like the Cleavers of American television show ‘Leave It to Beaver’ and the Andersons of ‘Father Knows Best’.
The societal shift in family structures didn’t come until the end of the 1960s when generally accepted ideas about what a family should look like changed. The coming of the feminist movement, along with more acceptance of divorce, meant that single-parent family units would soon be a commonplace presence. Naturally stemming from this change was blended families, and almost as if on cue, popular culture followed suit once again with a television show to speak to the times. It was called ‘The Brady Bunch’.
Today, the family unit is becoming even more pliable, as single parents opt to move in with extended family and same-sex couples adopt or have children of their own. Having the support of aunts, uncles, grandparents and close friends presents several advantages to divorcees, such as reliable and free childcare, financial help in the household and emotional support.
But how can parents, children and extended families navigate this fragile change? First and foremost, all adults involved should remember to put the children first. It is easy for younger family members to feel like they have lost control as their family unit shifts. By giving them extra attention and taking care to communicate with them honestly, parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles can help children feel more stable.
However, this doesn’t mean that you should become more lenient when it comes to discipline and rules. Though children have to adjust to living with more than one adult in the household, it is important to reinforce the values of respect and authority.
Additionally, it is imperative for children to feel the presence of parents not living in the household with them. If you are a divorced parent, you should make an effort to set times for children to be with the parent not in the household. This will help them to feel more secure and loved.
Overall, blended families, extended families and families of same-sex couples can be just as enriching and nurturing as what was once considered a traditional family structure. We may not have the Cleavers or the Andersons to look to now, but we have images of familial diversity at every turn.
The road to your own family balance may be bumpy, and you may rely on outside help if you face divorce or custody challenges; Irwin Mitchell are experts in family law. And after you’ve faced these obstacles, you’ll find that the key to navigating diverse family units is to recognise that there’s no one way to grow a family, as long as all the members love and respect each other.
Featured guest post