The blended family life


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When I am asked to explain my family to curious questioners, I exude an audible sigh and attempt a comprehensive rejoinder. It’s as if I’m an MIT janitor faced with an equation-laden blackboard, minus that whole secret-genius aspect.

Frankly, some things are better left unexplained. And, in complete honesty, I absolutely despise clarifying my family makeup.

The ideologically driven term we all recognize as the “nuclear family” has reached its half-life. Still, Americans tend to cling to the picturesque picket fence and two-and-a-half children image (Not only guns and religion, Mr. President). But realistically, you’d be hard pressed to find such Norman Rockwell nostalgia.

According to the National Stepfamily Resource Center, a nonprofit organization, approximately half of all first marriages will end in divorce. Subsequently, 75 percent of divorcees will remarry, and 65 percent of remarriages involve children from a prior marriage. Such staggering statistics are effectively changing social structure, gender roles, and even the experience of adolescence.

The classic definition of social communities is changing in a revolutionary fashion. Flash back to the 1950s to Anytown, America. The archetypal family was characterized by closely knit bonds; socially, households had ties to neighbors, coworkers, and community groups (such as churches or schools).

But now the number of possible social connections is innumerable. Because of technological advances, it’s easier than ever to meet new people, and therefore, remarriages are drastically increasing.

Personally, my family fits the bill of the aforementioned “blended family.” So hold tight, and let me try to breakdown its structure.

Technically, I’m an only child. But I have a half sister, a half brother, two stepbrothers, a stepmother, and at one point, a stepfather. The Dale/Stein/O’Donnell/Pilla family is but a sum of all the parts. We might as well be known as the Frankensteins.

Interestingly, a family makeup like my own is no longer a freak occurrence. Even one of my roommates has a similar household arrangement.

But what other trends are attributable to the nuclear family’s disintegration? Well, as mentioned earlier, blended families are leading to a metamorphosis of historically conservative age and gender roles.

First, medical advances and the breakdown of age barriers afford couples the opportunity to become parents at older ages. For such couples, many of which may be on their second or third marriage, only now do they exhibit a desire for children. My aunt, for example, recently gave birth to triplets via in vitro fertilization. Decades ago, it was unheard of that women her age would even contemplate having children.

And blended families are giving gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender parenting much more acceptability. Though some may disagree from a moral standpoint, it’s impossible to deny the permissibility that such couples have begun to enjoy. Inch by inch, nontraditional gender couples are gaining acceptance in the realm of marriage and parenting.

So where will the concept of family end up in the future?

I don’t think blended families will ever overtake the time-honored characterization. But as generations come and go, “millennials” get older, and baby boomers fade into the history books, the strict adherence to social roles will fragment.

It is my hope that one day, when I’m describing my kin to another person, the puzzled look on her or his face will be replaced by a simple nod of recognition.

Until then, don’t ask me about my family.

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