Families of the 21st Century come in all shapes and sizes. Divorce, remarriage, parenting out-of-wedlock and a host of other variables have turned nuclear families into the exception rather than the norm. As little as a half-century ago, children were typically raised in homes with two biological parents, and chances are, those two parents had the support of extended family members nearby. When one questioned their own parenting, they had only to turn to one of these supporters for reassurance and a confidence boost.
Fast forward to the first decade of the 21st Century, and you will find that the traditional, nuclear family is on the Endangered Species List. Even in nuclear families, homemaker and breadwinner roles have evolved into something that makes it impossible to define and designate an “average” family. In fact, the stereotypic breadwinner and homemaker roles rarely exist; most households require the income of two full-time wage earners just to get by.
Another significant change is the support network parents once enjoyed. It was not uncommon for extended family members to reside in close proximity to each other, if not under the same roof. Today, more and more grandparents are flocking to Florida, Arizona, or similar location to spend their retirement years while young adults are leaving the nest in search of greater career opportunities. This trend of stretching families around the globe means that there are fewer and fewer built-in support networks in our communities. Extended family members not only served as mentors and role models, but often as a sounding board or emergency caregiver. Parents and grandparents were respected and looked to for guidance during tough times. As a society, we admired and respected their stories of endurance; surviving economic challenges, marital troubles and a myriad of other circumstances associated with their times. As our role models they inspired us to work hard and persevere.
In addition to the extended family, we have lost our sense of community. Our neighbors today are essentially strangers. Fewer and fewer Americans attend church and therefore the support of the congregation is non-existent for many families. Commuters and tele-commuters reduce the opportunity to interact regularly with the people from our own neighborhoods. Instead, we drive 30, 60, 90 miles to work with people from nearby cities. This in itself is not a bad thing, but it further diminishes our sense of community and the support network we once took for granted.
Today’s families come in hundreds of shapes and sizes.
Stepfamilies are the most common form of “non-traditional” families, but think of the many variables within stepfamilies: everything from two partners with custody of their respective children to households where one partner has children and the other doesn't. There are still even more types of families: single mothers, single fathers, grandparents raising grandchildren, multi-generational households, the list is endless. Custody arrangements following separation and divorce are almost as unique as snowflakes; no two are the same. Legal and physical custody are no longer automatically awarded to the mother. More and more, kids are bouncing back and forth between two households on a weekly basis.
Family educators and coaches are well suited to help parents meet the changing demands of family life. While counseling and therapy may be necessary in some cases, generally speaking, people are in need of resources that will assist them in major transitions, to move them forward, to balance work and family. A family coach can support parents in aligning their personal goals with their values and priorities. Family educators/coaches can also address a wide range of issues, from parenting toddlers to teenagers, childcare and elder care and resources and referrals to connect to existing community services. With a sea of services available, it can be difficult and time consuming to identify exactly which one is best suited to meet your needs. A family coach that is familiar with both the community and the family’s unique needs can take the time and guesswork out of the search.
It's time to rebuild the support network that once helped hold the family together. Stepfamilies in particular need encouragement and insight to help them recognize the inevitable hurdles before them and proof that it can be done.
Blackwell Family Resources LLC is a coaching firm that specializes in blended and divorced families. Their coaches help divorced and remarried parents modify their expectations and help their children adapt to the new family configuration. Our coach listens to parents without judgment, respects their values and helps them develop their own solutions.
Angie Blackwell, Founder, earned her coaching certificate through the International Coach Academy and is a member of the International Coach Federation. She has a Bachelor's degree in Public Policy, an Associate's degree in Early Childhood Education and a Certificate as a Family Life Educator. Her specialized training includes Family Dynamics, Effective Parenting and Mediation. She has been a mother for 25 years, a step-mother for ten and a grandmother for four. Find her on the web at blackwellfamilyresources.com.