Change is exciting. Each new technological advance made in our world opens up doors that we never dreamed possible. Society has undergone astronomic change in just one generation. The impact on our society is so far reaching there are few remnants of what once was. These changes have had an impact and there is no going back. With each advance we lose some of what once was, for good or for bad. Family life is no exception. The advances in our world have changed the family in many ways.
Family structure, for example, which in the past usually consisted of mom,dad and the kids has been replaced by a vast array of family configurations that include single parent, blended families, unmarried couples with children, single, never married with children and many more. Children are shuffled between families in co-parenting or joint custody arrangements and blended families can consist of two, three or even more families combined in one. Intact families are the minority in many communities.
In addition to the structural changes that have had such a huge impact on families, the role of parents has also been altered. Two incomes are required to financially support the needs of families. Few can afford the luxury of a stay at home parent of either sex. Parents are absent for the majority of the day and often have long commutes in addition to long, stressful work weeks. Some are fortunate enough to work from home but this can also create a difficult environment when children are present.
Gone are the days when mom was home to greet the children, as my mother was with warm cookies or fresh baked cinnamon buns and hot chocolate at the end of a school day.
Many children now are considered "latch key kids" they have to go home to an empty house and often are there for a few hours before parents arrive. The advent of technology has eased the loneliness and boredom that could ensue during this time and is now filled with MSN, Face book, My Space and cable television. Children's social networks allow them to communicate with friends over the Internet and most kids spend little if any time outdoors. When I was a child we had a black and white tv, with one channel! No wonder we spend our free time outdoors!
Parents who have been made paranoid by reports of child abductions from around the world forbid their kids to be outside alone. The streets in neighborhoods are empty most of the time. A generation ago the neighborhoods were filled with children. Kids would play outside all day, rollerskating, biking, building forts, going to the playground and more. We were not chaperoned or supervised by adults, we were not afraid to be outside. Now kids report that their number one fear is being kidnapped which statistically speaking is very rare. That fact does not change things for most parents. Kids stay in the house most of the time.
The involvement of extended family has also been lost as families are required to move to where there are good career or educational opportunities. Many grandparents have their own busy lives and are not interested in being totally involved in the upbringing of their grandchildren. They may visit, but they are generally not involved on a day to day basis. This is a huge loss for families. The extended family can provide much needed support and a sense of connectedness. Twenty years ago, families were closer and grandparents and other family members provided a much needed buffer for families. With technology we may be able to keep in touch online or by phone, but it is not the same as time well spent with a grandparent or special aunt or uncle.
On the upside, families seem to be more supportive and more encouraging with children. Gone are the days of authoritative punishment meated out by the father after he returned from a long day at the office. Parenting has become more psychologically sound and children know they have the right to live without the threat of punishment and abuse. Communication is more open, people talk to each other and families are more willing to ask for professional help such as family counseling if they feel they need it. This is a huge leap forword for families and society.
With the world at our fingertips, the Internet has had a huge impact on family life, both good and bad. Family members may spend more time talking to their friends on the Internet than to a family member sitting across the room from them.
This technological boom has given us access to the world but may unfortunately have a negative impact on our relationships at home.
Family life has changed dramatically and although we may have a nostalgic view of the past, we must embrace the changes, celebrate the positive gains we have made and work to make the best of the life we now have.