By Joseph Honsberger, LCSW-C
Have you ever seen the television show “Modern Family”’? The first thing I noticed is that the show is very funny. You are guaranteed to laugh the whole time and perhaps miss a few of the one liners. The second thing that struck me is how the show highlights the reality that families are constantly changing. Judging by the world of “Modern Family,” today there is much more acceptance and tolerance for different types of families than there used to be.
The program focuses on the patriarch of the family and his new wife, who has a son from a previous relationship. Oh, did I tell you that she is Latino and considerably younger than he? They are so cute together, and in this season she is pregnant. You can only imagine the ongoing puns around their age difference, his relationship with his stepson and more. The patriarch also has two adult children. His daughter is married to a man and they have three children. His son is gay and he and his partner have an adopted Asian child. All of the different families and characters make for an engaging comedy about our relationships and the struggles we work through (though in life, of course, these are rarely resolved within half an hour.)
I am so impressed that a show like this exists on television, reflecting the fact that different types of families are no longer invisible and that all families share the same issues of everyday life. For example, we see how each family addresses the issue of raising children. The characters face the same kinds of questions “real” parents do. Are we being too lenient? Are we setting enough limits? How do we impart our values to our children in a way that they will listen? I can think of a million different questions I would ask myself, and this really does not vary so much from family to family. What family has not had the discussion about how we spend our money? In the show, they constantly struggle, though in a light-hearted manner, with questions like: are we giving our children too much or are we not giving them enough? This not only happens on a financial level, but also on an emotional one.
When you think of a family, what images come to your mind? Are you part of a “Modern Family”? Definitions of “family” have certainly evolved in the past few decades. Today’s realities have expanded the definition to embrace new family constellations. The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that approximately half of all families with children under 18 today are composed of two biological parents and their children. What about the other half? About 20 percent of children in two parent household live in blended families. Single-parent families make up 27 % of households with children under age 18. Some 8 million children have parents who are gay, lesbian, or bisexual, and about 1.5 million unmarried couples have at least one child under age 15.
Though the constellation of the family has changed over the years, the importance of belonging to a family, no matter what type, remains a constant desire for all of us. We all want and need the emotional support of one another in a family, to encourage and support our growth and development. We need the sense of shared values, trust, and attachment that come from being part of a family. Of course, every family has its own share of conflicts and struggles, the household chores and family dinners gone awry. But we all work to preserve the meaning family has to us.
So, the folks in “Modern Family,” you have given us many shared moments of laughter and joy that come from being part of a family. Now more and more different types of families are emerging. Many may look different from families in the past, but they can all stand proud of being who they are.
By Joseph Honsberger, LCSW-C, Senior Manager, Therapy Services, Jewish Community Services, Baltimore, MD
To learn more about how JCS can help you solve life’s puzzles please visit our home page or call 410-466-9200.