Divorce Culture and the Evolution of Family

Most will agree that the image of Wally’s and Beaver’s mom, vacuuming the family parlor in pearls,has been replaced with a different idea of “mom”. Family changes reflect changes of society, but does that indicate an evolution that has hurt or hindered Rockwell’s idea of home sweet home? You decide.

John Gillis, in his book, A World of Their Own Making: Myth, Ritual, and the Quest for Family Values, discuses the myth of the Ozzie and Harriet generation and goes further to suggest today’s family is more stable and united than we think. He asserts that we over glorify the earlier family model and each generation of family has it’s own problems. Some longitudinal studies, like Amato and Booth 1996 study of families support his view. They suggest the behavioral, emotional troubles of youngsters appear, well before the parents divorce. They also state that the quality of family life and not the structure of family are what influence a child’s emotional development and well being. In other words, marital conflict may hurt some children more than a divorce will, indicating that today’s family design might be an improvement on the traditional 50’s style.

Isn’t today’s mother less suppressed than the nostalgic wife of the 1950’s? Unlike the 1950’s, when partners stayed in unhappy marriages rather than experience the ‘stigma’ of divorce, single parent homes are now commonplace. Does the rise of divorce rates since the 50’s indicate the decline of family, or is it an indicator today’s partners opt for a healthier life style, devoid of interpersonal conflict?

The traditional family model portrays women differently. In Arlene and Jerome’s Skolnick’s book, Family In Transition, they state that from the data gathered based on interview responses given by the single mothers they interviewed, most women reported that they liked being in control and were able to now make decisions they couldn’t make when married. Skolnick reports that in most low-income areas, single mothers say they don’t want to be ‘owned’ or slaves to their husband. Skolnick and Skolnick define quality, healthy, long lasting marriages as having both partners contribute financially, and being equal in decision making. They believe that intimacy in a marriage comes from being part of a well-matched, equal team.

Today’s family wants the father to participate more with child rearing and not be the only breadwinner. The working mother is seen as an advantage, because it helps the family with financial responsibilities, lifting some of the burden from the male partner.

Today’s family comes in different forms,all shapes and sizes,married,single, un -wed, same- sexed unions, divorced and widowed. Is today’s family unit an improvement because even Cinderella ran from the traditional form, living with step sisters and an evil step mother? It makes for a great debate at the family dinner table.

The evolution of family will continue and change according to cultural and economic changes and society’s view. Dreams of family ideals may sync with reality or differ from it greatly, but one thing is for certain. If Rockwell were alive today, his family portraits would be very different, but equally vivid, beautiful and captivating. This uniqueness is what makes a family and America great.


Amato, P. R., & Booth, A. (2001). The legacy of parents’ marital discord: Consequences for children’s marital quality. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 81(4), 627-638.

A World of Their Own Making: Myth, Ritual, and the Quest for Family Values. Contributors: John R. Gillis – author. Publisher: Basic Books. Place of Publication: New York. Publication Year: 1996. Page Number: iii.

Skolnick, A and J Skolnick. 2007. Family in Transition. New York: Allyn and Bacon. (14th edition) ISBN: 9780205482658

Luanne Stevenson is a freelance writer and previously wrote for the Boston Examiner, as a “special-kids-and -special-education” contributor, writing content for the Education and Parenting Section. She owns…  View profile

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