How Family Roles have Changed since the Sixtiies

In identifying role changes or role evolutions that have occurred over the past 49 years, so much has happened to vastly change the roles of each family member, the structure of families, themselves, the threats that society imposes, and the opportunities available to men and women.

The GRANDPARENTS role in the family began with the traditional rural or urban structures of close knit and extended families living in the same area or town, and was permanently disrupted by four things: the Vietnam War and the draft; the changes in divorce laws; and the increased opportunities for women that came from birth control, abortion rights, equal rights, and education.

Grandparents now find themselves serving as either babysitters or as custodial parents of grandchildren who have multiple roles in blended households. Grandparents and great grandparents are living longer, either exhausting their assets, or extending their working careers, followed by long periods of being active and retired, then long periods of decline from Alzheimer, cancers or dementia.

THE NUCLEAR FAMILY evolved and split into the blended family, the family on the move, the single parent family, the latchkey family and the family with two moms or two dads. The role of women as confined to being homemakers and child care officials evolved into part time roles when career opportunities for women boomed. In many cases, the father has become the homemaker and childcare official, while the mother is the provider.

IN MILITARY LIFE, the mother is now the soldier while the father is either the dependent spouse or is also a soldier. Grandparents may have custody and care of the children for extended periods when both are deployed to locations where families are not supported. In the 60s, the roles were overwhelmingly traditional, with women as housewives and mothers, and the men as the providers. Anyone else was either very young or scandalous.

During the 60s and 70s, the college financial aid system allowed both men and women to improve their educations and their job prospects in life. HOUSEHOLDS became either more education oriented, educated, or at least more technically skilled.

THE CHILDREN were expected to at least graduate from high school and to get good jobs that lasted for twenty years and then to retire. Girls were expected to marry in their 20’s and to make being mothers and home makers their primary focus, while careers were allowable if they did not interfere with the womanly duties. Boys were expected to work and to provide for their families. Beatings and other corporal punishment was common and was allowed. Illegitimate children were still scandalous, and divorces were still shocking. Children were socially and personally traumatized by divorce and by many other social and family dysfunctions that are common today. Being gay or lesbian was done entirely in the closet and was generally unheard of as an open lifestyle. The children of the 60s were the first to see war up close and personal and to get the details of sex, rock and roll, and the drug culture.

Now, children are expected to have some college, to delay marriage and childbirth, and to have solid skills that can move with them as jobs come and go. In too many cases, children are maintained in a developmental stasis, where they are not maturing and becoming independent as well as they did in the 60s. Extended families can be separated by thousands of miles, so that children may see their distant relatives from time to time. Divorce is still a source of trauma and disruption of trust for children, but the social stigma has been replaced with understanding and extra attention. Now, children can be exposed to drugs, sex and rock and roll while in grade school. There is very little going on in the world that they are guaranteed to be sheltered from if they live in normal communities.

WOMEN are expected to either work and to contribute to the household finances, or to be at the level of Martha Stewart in their excellence as homemakers, community workers, and quasi socialites. Single mothers are no longer stigmatized as broadly, Lesbians are gaining much tolerance and acceptance as family members and in the community, although they are not accepted everywhere. Divorce is so common that it is no longer a source of great shame or social ostracism for most women. Childbirth is now a challenge as women are finding that the risks are higher, and chances of success are greatly decreased in the early to mid 30s. Women can establish themselves as single parents, group parents, non parents, and can change gender roles if they choose or need to.

MEN are both burdened by traditional expectations and are free to explore life in a much wider variety. They are accepted as stay at home Dads, gay dads, part time dads, and women, should they choose to explore other genders. They find themselves caught between the locker room and television sitcom ideals of men who don’t understand women and children, but have them in their lives, and reality, where a relationship is whatever they work for and wish to have. One major change is that men cannot financially abandon their children in America, or they will lose their passports, jobs, or even freedom. As a consolation, paternity testing can confirm that men are not being lied to or misinformed about who their legal children are. It is a great trauma for younger men that they can have no knowledge or control over abortions or whether their children are given up for adoption. Many of them are active and involved in their children’s lives, however, and are doing fine.

Recent trends include the damage that drug abuse, two wars and the bad economy are causing all who have roles in anything. The “Sandwich Generation” where children or grandchildren must care for the elderly as well as their own children and grandchildren commenced in the 1980s and exists today. There are also increases in multi generational and group households as well as transient communities where families are renting temporarily in the hopes of job and financial recovery and return to home ownership.