When I was growing up in the 1960’s through the 1980’s, most families consisted of a man and a woman who were married to each other and their children. The man and woman were generally the same race and religion. There were divorces that occasionally resulted in Brady Bunch-types of blended families. It was never clear on the Brady Bunch if Mike and Carol were widowed or divorced before they got married. My own parents have been married for 65 years, have four children together, and four grandchildren. Very traditional for their generation. I think it gradually became more common through the 60’s for couples to live together and have children without being married. If I’m not stating the obvious too much, tradtional families have transmutated in ways that shock my parent’s generation while keeping heads spinning among mine.
My mother’s parents were an anomaly in the 1930’s because they got a divorce. This was not unheard of back then, but it certainly wasn’t commonplace like it has become. My grandmother was one of the original single, working mothers. She worked as a secretary on Ellis Island while raising her two young daughters. My mother remembers some of her mother’s “gentleman callers” as they were known back then. Her father remarried several times but none of his wives were involved much with his kids. My grandmother remarried once in her later years after her children had their own children.
In my own case, my family had the traditional start. I got married to my first boyfriend after college, bought a house, got a dog, and had two kids, in that order. My husband and I lived under one roof with our dog and kids. We took vacations together. There were the usual bumps in the road with a few major potholes. We got through them. We were basically following in our parent’s footsteps. His parents were married 50 years when his dad passed away. My husband felt it wasn’t working for him anymore about 10 years ago, but didn’t quite know what to do. He wallowed in depression until 2015 when he decided we should separate and moved into our vacation home.
As a last ditch effort, we tried the “open marriage” thing for about 6 months before I became fed up with being second to his girlfriend and asked him to choose to make me his first priority or to please leave. We had been married for 28 years.
My mother still struggles to wrap her head around my modern family where my husband I live separately and are dating other people. When I told her that he was on vacation this week with his girlfriend visiting her brother out of state, she was shocked that he told me that.
My boyfriend mentioned to a co worker that he had met my husband. Instead of reacting like he thought this sounded weird, he said it was just “modern family”.
My friend Christine married a divorced man with two grown children. One of his daughters recently came out as a lesbian. Christine thought she would be cool about this and was indeed so until the daughter’s girlfriend stayed with them for 2 weeks. She said that seeing the public displays of affection in the house and seeing them wear their pride T shirts and go to the pride parade in New York was a little too much for her even with her modern sensibilities.
We all know a few stories about the new kinds of families that are always evolving in our culture. Gay marriage has been a radical shift in our society that has bred more and more different types of modern families. It has been much easier for me to adjust to these changes than it’s been for my mother.