In America, as in other societies, the society has a constructed image of the some institution, the family being one of them. This image portrays the societal image of the ideal traits if the “ideal” American families. In the modern world, while the probability of many families achieving this societal ideal are limited due to among other things the social and economic changes in the contemporary American society, these myths persist. This essay is an analysis of the “ideal” family myths.
For most people in the society, the “ideal” family is a nuclear one. There are several reasons for this. In the first place, the society believes that in such a family, the two parents will be able to take care of the children better. The second characteristic of the ideal family is the one where one parent is the breadwinner, while the other parent stays at home and takes care of the children and the household. This operates on the basis that the family needs the stability in finances, and while the children need parental guidance and control. The third ideal family characteristic is the harmonious and healthy family living in a peaceful home. This emphasizes on the sharing of a happy family experience between the various members of the family.
Most of the ideal family myths are based on the societal idea of what a perfect family should be, and not the actual situation in many of the families. The first myth that underlies the modern American family is that of the monolithic family form (Zinn and Eitzen 10, 13). This implies that most Americans believe that the ideal family is the nuclear family with children and in which the two parents enjoy a sexual division of labor. The nuclear family shields itself from the society and enjoys autonomy from the larger society a seen in the fact that most believe that it should live it itsown house, from where the family members can conduct their family business in peace. In the monolithic family form, the mother is a homemaker, while the father is the breadwinner. This myth relates to the first and the third ideal family characteristic. First, the Monolithic Family Form presupposes the nuclear family. However, the proliferation of the single parent families due to divorces and out-of-wedlock births. Moreover, most people wives/mothers now work to help provide for the family.
The second family myth is the one that emphasizes on “Family Consensus.” The main import of this myth is that in the family there are no conflicts, and the family members accord each other love and respect and as such, there is harmony in the family (Zinn and Eitzen 16, 18). This myth seems far from the truth as family members have individual fears, frustrations, and ambitions. This myth is linked to the ideal family characteristic of the nuclear family as the myth of family consensus presumes that in a family where the father/husband provides for the household, and where the mother cares for the children and home, there be little, if any reasons for the family to disagree, which is also not valid. This myth also has a connection to the ideal family characteristic of a harmonious family living in their peaceful home. In this respect, it presupposes that a family living in their home will have little squabbles amongst themselves, which is not practical different interests can lead to conflict ion the family.
The third myth about the family is the “Undifferentiated Family Experience.” This myth presupposes that all the family members have the needs, interests and ambitions as the rest of the family, regardless of the age and gender differences (Zinn and Eitzen 13). However, this myth brushes over the fact that due to gender, sex, and even personality differences, it is entirely impossible for the family members to experience things in an identical manner. Like this myth, the ideal characteristic of a healthy family living in a happy home presupposes that a family is an undifferentiated unit rather than a collection of individuals, and as such, they experience happiness together and overcome difficulties together. This however not true as not only do different families have different experiences but individuals in a family experience issues differently due to age, gender and personality differences.
Bonnie Thornton Dill in “Fictive Kin, Paper Sons, and Compadrazgo:
Women of Color and the Struggle for Family Survival” discusses family issues in a society that also experiences significant racial problems. Dill posits that, for a woman of color in the US, significant issues such as poverty and lack of opportunities affect their family lives (149). According to Dill, the woman of color’s significance in the American life was for a long time as “workers and entertainers of workers” and significantly, “not as family members” (152). This busts the myth of the family in which the wife/mother takes care of the household, while the father/husband serves as the breadwinner. Moreover, the author explains that society did not give ideal conditions that the woman of color to be the housewife, and thus she combined the family role with labor outside the family home. In the modern day America, this has translated to single women of color becoming head of single-parent families due to out-of-wedlock births and divorces. Again, this discards the ideal family characteristic of a nuclear family.
Stephanie Coontz’s article “What We Really Miss about the 1950s” addresses the myths of the bread-winning father, and the housewife mother. Unlike in the 1950s, this is inapplicable today, however. First, there were a set of different economic and social circumstances that ensured that what she calls the "breadwinner-housewife distinction" was prevalent at the time, and not now (56). First, the post-war economic boom provided jobs with good benefits that ensured that in most cases, a single parent, the father/husband could comfortably provide for the family (57). This is unlike now, when the rise in the cost of living has ensured that a single income can support few families. Moreover, Coontz explains that women who underwent domestic abuse did not have the audacity to complain, and thus in spite of many women's unhappiness witha marriage, few had the audacity to leave (63). Thus, as it is apparent, the “ideal” family may have existed then, but its circumstances were barely ideal. Such an approach cannot work now because more women are going to college and after getting families, getting jobs thus shattering the idea of the housewife. Moreover, unlike in the past, domestic abuse or unhappiness in marriage usually leads to divorce, which results in a single parent family.
To conclude, this exercise has been a learning experience for me. From the exercise, I have learned that many of my ideas on what the family should be, as well as those of the society, are myths perpetuated through culture. The most outstanding fact I learned from this is that only 10% of the modern American family ascribe to the nuclear family model with a division of labor. Moreover, from this exercise, it is apparent to me that changes in society, including social and economical like the change in society from the 1950s to today, have led to different family variances. In my estimation, with time, the societal myths of the family with eventually disappear.