Good News for Modern Families

By Sam Trego on Dec 06th, 2010

So I have some exciting news!  The Raising Alek website is up (www.raisingalek.com)!  It’s growing with content daily, and now I’ve got all the latest article posted, so be sure to check in, and feel free to leave your comments, and possibly ideas for future articles.

The modern family is changing in this country.  Gay or other, today’s family is not what it used to be.  Today’s American families come in all shapes and sizes. The cookie cutter mold of a man + wife + 2.5 kids is a thing of the past, as it becomes quickly apparent in the bird’s eye view of ABC’s half-hour comedy, “Modern Family.”  The good news is that today’s families are in the process of a huge transformation, and I would argue that this direction is really great news for the “moral fabric” of our nation.

Before I go deeper into some numbers, opinions, and research, I have to thank Rich McCullen of the amazing “Mission Gathering” Church in North Park.  If you have never been to this church… you need to go.  Stop what you’re doing.  Bookmark this article.  Visit this church and hear this man speak, and then come back to my article. I doubt if you’ve ever experienced anything like this.  Forget everything you’ve ever heard about church… take an hour this Sunday at 9:00 or 11:00 am and see for yourself.  Rich is doing a four week series he is calling “Modern Families” that we all need to see and hear.  It literally blew me away when I attended this last Sunday and I asked Rich’s permission if I could use some of his quotes on what he was saying about today’s family.  You take some of the good stuff being talked about with The Mission Gathering (www.missiongathering.org) and mix it up with some recent studies in Time Magazine and USA Today and there’s got enough fascinating material here for several weeks of articles that demonstrate a pretty astounding connection between what is happening with the rise of the gay family, and the overall evolution of this institution we call “family.”  That definition is changing, and despite the toxic medicine that the Mitt Romney’s or Sarah Palin’s of the world are trying to have you swallow so that you’ll vote for them out of fear, the truth is that it is changing for the better.

You might have seen on the cover of Time Magazine a few weeks ago the cover “Who needs marriage?” The report is of a massive study on marriage that was a collaboration of Time Magazine with the Pew research Center in Washington.  Pew does some of the most interesting research on the planet as far as cultural shifts in our lives.  They go deep into some analysis of what’s on people’s minds as far as the changing thoughts and opinions on the notions of what makes a family in America.  You can log on and read for yourself the results of this study that was done in association with Time Magazine and complemented by an analysis of demographic and economic data from the U.S. Census Bureau at:  www.pewsocialtrends.org/family. Now personally in recent years, I’ve not cared a less what other people think, but when 2690 people were a part of this very recent survey, the results show a mindset in this country that is noteworthy (right winged, conservative, hypocritical, hate-mongering politicians, are you listening?  Hello?  Sharon Angle and Christine O’Donnell, are you reading Time Magazine?):

  • 86% say that a single parent and a child is a family
  • 80% say that an unmarried couple living together with a child is a family
  • 63% say a gay or lesbian couple living together with a child is a family
  • 80% say a childless married couple are a family
  • 54% say a co-habiting couple without a child is not a family

What you see in these numbers is that the presence of children clearly matters in these definitions.  If a cohabiting couple has no children, the majority of the public today says that they are not a family.

Professor Stephanie Coontz, from Evergreen State College in Washington, is the author of The Way We Never Were took part in this survey and says that people think today that family is seen more of a relationship rather today than an institution. If you have a close relationship and you are committed, then you counted as a family.  If you are making obligations to partners and kids, then you’re counted as family.  This is all opposite to the old way of thinking that it is purely a legal definition.  Studies are also showing that Americans are focusing less on the structure of family per se, and instead are focusing on the functions and the purpose of the family.  “In other words” pastor Rich told the congregation at Mission Gathering, “Families are becoming more about the heart, as opposed to the rules and regulations, which is sort of the same thing that’s happening to religion in our country.”

That should be good news for modern gays.  It strengthens our fight for marriage equality because we are equal, and public opinion is beginning to get in synch with this realization.  The study shows that only 43% of the people in our country feel that gay couples having children is bad for society.  Now we all can agree that this is way too large of a number, but it’s good news in that this number is shrinking.

It’s particularly interesting to me that the study found that marriage is no longer considered a prerequisite for becoming a parent.  Over the past 50 years, the percentage of children born to unmarried mothers has increased 8x from 5% in 1960 to 41% in 2008.  Now I don’t think my family even made the question on the survey because you don’t have a lot of children born to unmarried (and gay) fathers!  Hopefully we’ll pull in some stronger numbers in the next 50 years on that one.

Despite all the change that is happening in what makes a modern family, the public maintains a positive outlook about the future of the family.  When asked if they feel generally optimistic or pessimistic about marriage, 67% say they are optimistic.  You don’t have to look much further than last week’s episode of “Glee” to know that marriage is still very important to America.

So there is the seemingly contradictory information that 1) Marriage is valued very highly in American society, and 2) Marriage is on the decline as far as the overall percentage of Americans that are married.  This number has declined to 54% in 2010 from 57% in 2000, down from 72% in 1960.  Though it is on a decline, there are positive reasons why.  Stephanie Coontz states that “The relationship of marriage is taken more seriously than it used to be, and it means more to people though the institution is no longer than it was.”  Rich McCullen of Mission Gathering puts it in more simple terms:  “we’re learning from our parents mistakes. As a country we still value marriage… for many of us we fight for the right to marry, but what we are doing as a country is that we are thinking twice before we walk down the aisle.  Why?  Because we are preparing ourselves to be with that person perhaps much better than our parents prepared themselves.  We are reevaluating why we get married.  In the 1960’s if you weren’t married, you were a looser.  That’s not the case anymore.”  We are marrying and having families because we want to, not because we are expected to, and that is good news for modern families.



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