As I read “Same-sex couples in North Carolina prepare for marriage vote” I couldn’t help but be reminded of an article I recently wrote for a gender studies class. While it may be somewhat disjointed, the argument revolves around the need for some to define the ideal family:
An individual’s family may be the most consistent aspect of their life. The degree to which an individual may interact with their family will undoubtedly vary; nonetheless, a family is the one thing that most individuals have in common. Politicians, the media and religious organizations like to make a big deal about what the ideal family may look like, but the fact of the matter is that it is impossible to apply a cookie-cutter type approach when attempting to define the ideal family or even traditional family values. The conditions that enabled the seemingly-ideal 1950s family (stay-at-home mother) are almost nonexistent today. Today, families face economic burdens that require both parents to work or, in the instances of single-parent homes, one parent to work two jobs. Today’s parents are torn between traditional family obligations (game night, little league and dance recitals) and contemporary family obligations (ensuring the rent is paid and there is food on the table). Some, just as Annette Lareau’s research alludes, would argue that sacrificing that former in favor of the latter is a detriment to the development of children and may even create inconsistent or unstable families. In her article Unequal Childhoods Lareau cites evidence that middle-class children seem to have an advantage over their poorer peers because the parents of middle-class children are more engaging. Increased engagement, Lareau argues, leads to greater cognitive and personal interaction skills (p. 346). The article also suggests that the actions (looking each other in the eye when they talk, for example) of middle-class parents instills responsibility in their children whereas the lack of these actions on the part of poorer parents put their children at a marked disadvantage. This is yet another attempt to apply cookie-cutter standards across a broad spectrum to the development families. The suggestion that poor families do not look each other in the eye when they interact is absurd. Moreover, this argument completely dismisses the ideals and lessons transferred to children through the observation of their parents’ hard work. Responsibility is providing for your family regardless of the circumstances. As such, it could be argued that poorer families are do more to instill the ideal of responsibility than more affluent families who may rely on nannies or maids to help care for children.
Another area in which “experts” attempt to define the ideal family is in its composition, specifically that a family should be comprised of a mother and father. These same experts would have you believe that in the absence of a mother and father a child is better left in the care of a foster family than in a loving home where both parents may be of the same sex. Kath Weston addresses this belief in her article Straight Is to Gay as Family Is to No Family by highlighting the common misconception that same-sex couples are predisposed to a life of “solitude and loneliness” and therefore are incapable of providing a stable family life for children (p. 339). Once again, society is attempting to apply an outdated Leave it to Beaver template to contemporary families. Being a homosexual in the 1950s and 60s was taboo and living in a same-sex marriage type environment was unthinkable. Today, however, same-sex marriage is becoming increasingly more acceptable, but yet same-sex couples continue to face difficulties in adopting. It is as if parenting is like chemistry and families are a formula where equal parts male + equal parts female = perfectly harmonious family life. We all know this not to be the case. Every day we are inundated with images of abused and exploited children who were growing up in these so-called ideal homes (mother and father). What, then, is the explanation for these violations against traditional family values?
The answer is the outdated template, or the fact that a template is even used. Family, in the sense that everyone has a one, will remain consistent throughout time. The idea of its makeup, however, must conform to an ever-changing society.