The traditional family or as it is often referred to the ‘Nuclear family’ is a term used in sociology and anthropology to describe the socially accepted norm for what a family should consist of (REF NEEDED). This view of the family is a structure which consists of one male and one female, who would typically be married and have at least one or more biological children (in some cases adopted) (REF NEEDED). In most cases of the ‘nuclear family’ the father would be the sole ‘bread maker’ where his responsibility would be to work and earn money to support the family financially whereas the mothers role would be a domestic one where she would stay home performing roles such as cooking, cleaning and taking care of the children(REF NEEDED). A non-traditional family is defined as anything other than this somewhat narrow view of a ‘traditional family’, this covers a wide range of situations for example, a single parent with a biological/adopted child or same sex couples with an adopted child(REF NEEDED). Contrastingly in cases such as this the single parent would go out to work irrespective of their gender whilst also simultaneously carrying the additional responsibility of all the household and domestic responsibilities such as cooking and cleaning whilst also raising the children (REF NEEDED).
Contrary to what we believe about the idealistic ‘traditional’ American family, they are far from ideal, what is seen on the outside is not exactly what is happening on the inside. In colonial America, the majority of people were wed not due to love but for work purposes and family alliances, essentially they were set up with an arranged marriage that would then benefit the male, giving him extra help around his house and farm(REF NEEDED). The Colonial mother’s duties involved caring for the children and completing tasks such as cooking, cleaning and doing laundry, they would often help the husband on the farm, taking on the work of tending to animals and crops. The mother’s role also depended on the family’s wealth and for richer families the mother would quite often spend less time with their children than a modern day mother would as she would quite often bequeath the task of child minding onto an older sibling or even a servant, in fact the main role the mothers had to play was to be supportive of their husband (REF NEEDED). The Colonial era was a very male dominant time in which any form of disobedience from either the wife or children was seen as treason and was punishable by death. A Colonial father’s role was being the head of the household and had the roles of earning a wage and being a disciplinarian, he would engage socially with other men in hobbies like hunting and fishing to provide food for the families, a father’s role actually had very little responsibility when it came to parenting, only once the children reached adolescence would the father then mentor his son/sons in teaching them the family trade(REF NEEDED). Fathers would provide a small choice of suitable men for the daughters that were of a wealthy family or had a good business, this then essentially gave them the illusion of choice and after courting the fathers would then provide consent to marry a suitor he deemed acceptable to join the family(REF NEEDED).
The concept of the ‘traditional family’ with its marriages dominated by unconditional love, strong affectionate bonds and close sentimental relationships between parents and children didn’t actually arise in American family life culture until around the end of the late 18th and early 19th century (REF NEEDED). The first appearance of such an attitude was witnessed in the upper classes of society, more specifically in the educated and wealthy middle classes amongst the urban populations and eventually diffused out into the rural populations (REF NEEDED). This shift in attitude has been attributed to economic growth and prosperity of the time, with the subsequent drop in financial strains and pressures allowing families to dedicate more time to leisure activities as opposed to a lifestyle which was primarily focused on simply surviving from day to day (REF NEEDED). The dawn of the industrial revolution lead to the production of things which were historically done locally within the family to a range of factories and large shopping premises, further relieving pressures. It was at this time that perhaps for the first time in human history a life with higher levels of ‘comfort’ and ‘happiness’ had become possible.
During the Industrial Revolution most Americans still lived a life of work on their independent farms; however this did change the father’s relationship and role with the family in which he would usually spend his days working away (REF NEEDED). This then gave the women a larger role back at home in running the household and more authority with the children. Wealthy family’s often still made use of servants to assist with the chores and bringing up of the children but with the mother’s new role in the household she was able to spend more time directly with rearing the children (REF NEEDED). However in the less wealthy conditions women and even in some cases the children often had to venture out to work in places such as factories and textile mills and these environments were particularly harsh for women and children (REF NEEDED). In the traditional marriage it was commonplace that men and women would marry a partner of the same status or that the same job. For example coal miners would usually marry into other coal miner family and the same for people working cotton mills, iron works etc. During this time the authority the father had previously held over the family wasn’t as strong as it had once been as jobs such as mining and factories undermined the old patriarchal authority structure, as factories would put every member of the family, wife, husband and child to work under the same conditions (REF NEEDED). In fact it actually became the norm that mothers would use various types of narcotics, one named Godfrey’s Cordial (also called Mother’s friend) which consisted of opium, water, treacle and spices to help put their children to sleep after working a 14, 16 hour day, sadly this concoction resulted in many deaths and severe illnesses of babies and children. (REF NEEDED)
The Second World War made many changes, it opened up new opportunities but also brought sadness and a serious reality to the lives of children and adults alike. For many war was a time of fear which led to families separating and children being made to live with distant relatives or other families. This led to a lot of devastating emotions from separation and many felt robbed of their life. The fathers were sent off to war and mothers would also contribute to helping in the war taking on jobs such as nurses, mechanics, engineers and working in factories helping manufacture bombs and aircraft parts (REF NEEDED). The war undoubtedly changed the ‘Traditional family’ forever.
Few years after the war and the many changes that had been made shifted the responsibilities of within families. Women got more involved in the job market and pursed their careers; many began to work in careers like politics, law and medicine which historically were more male dominant (REF NEEDED). This led to many husbands finding it difficult to keep up and began to feel inadequate as they were no longer the sole bread maker. The stresses that both felt, with the wife trying to hold down a full time job and look after the kids contributed to a rise in divorce rates which then began the rise of single parents and unmarried couples living together (REF NEEDED).
Moving into the 21st century rates of divorce, single parents, adoption and same sex marriages continue to rise, in 2016 almost one third of all adults (32%) have never married, more than 8 million opposite-sex couples live together without being married and about 62% of children have a mother who works outside of the home, slightly less than those with a father who works outside of home at 66%, moving further away from the ‘myth of the traditional family’ (REF NEEDED). The 21st century family view has changed significantly from a sociological perspective, where families extend beyond immediate blood relatives and that it doesn’t matter whether or not you are related but what is more important is who you connect with in a familial sense. ‘Family’ can often be described as someone who is a very close friend, someone with whom you have shared important times with or someone that’s perhaps undergone similar situations and experiences as you, forming a deep bond through these shared experiences, someone that’s has essentially been through thick and thin with them. Many families today can comprise of extended, blended or same sex families; the definition of family is much more than just a mum, dad and their biological children.